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“Normal Transitions:” KT McFarland Sent Tom Bossert to “Spy” on Lisa Monaco

Trump is excusing his refusal to transition power by claiming he never got a real transition.

The President’s refusal to concede, as CNN has previously reported, stems in part from his perceived grievance that Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama undermined his own presidency by saying Russia interfered in the 2016 election and could have impacted the outcome, people around him have said.

Trump continues to hold a grudge against those who he claims undercut his election by pointing to Russian interference efforts, and he has suggested it is fair game to not recognize Joe Biden as the President-elect, even though Clinton conceded on election night in 2016 and the Trump transition was able to begin immediately.

That’s not true, but it’s also not new that he’s blaming others for his own mistakes and obstinance.

Because he’s ignoring the many efforts the Obama Administration made to ease the transition (many of which were rebuffed), it bears making something implicit in this post more explicit.

KT McFarland sent someone — almost certainly Tom Bossert — to learn what Obama’s Homeland Security Czar, Lisa Monaco, knew of Russias’ response to Obama’s sanctions. Only after Flynn got Bossert’s response did he call Sergey Kislyak.

And Kislyak exploited Trump’s insecurities as a result.

It’s not public precisely when Flynn (or his assistant) told McFarland that Ambassador Kislyak had reached out to the incoming National Security Advisor. It seems likely that Flynn forwarded the text he received from Kislyak on December 28 to McFarland and her assistant, however, because Kislyak’s text to Flynn is sourced to the subpoena production of that assistant, Sarah Flaherty, in the Mueller Report.

According to KT McFarland’s own testimony, however, she believes she told Steve Bannon about the upcoming call before it happened. The Mueller Report places this conversation shortly after McFarland called Flynn on his personal cell phone at 2:29PM on December 29 but did not reach him. That would confirm McFarland knew Flynn was going to speak to the Russian Ambassador before Flynn texted Flaherty to see if McFarland was available for a call at 3:14PM. Flaherty told Flynn that McFarland was unavailable because she was speaking with Homeland Security Czar designee Tom Bossert.

So at 3:14PM, McFarland already knew Flynn was preparing to talk to Kislyak and she was talking with Bossert.

Sometime in between 3:14PM and 3:50PM, based on Flynn’s representation that this call happened before he spoke with McFarland, Flynn called the spouse of the SJC staffer currently leading the pushback on this investigation, Michael Ledeen. Flynn and Ledeen spoke for 20 minutes.

At 3:50PM, McFarland called Flynn on his personal cell phone. They spoke for 6:39 minutes.

At 4:01PM, Bossert emailed a group including Flynn, McFarland, Bannon (at a private email), Keith Kellogg, and Reince Priebus, relaying what he had learned speaking with Lisa Monaco.

[Monaco] confirms the Russiand [sic] have already responded with strong threats, promising to retaliate. [She] characterized the Russian response as bellicose. My thoughts, sans the Russia angle, on which I defer to Mike and KT: [redacted] : Cyber attacks by forcing governments or anyone else are unacceptable and must be taken seriously. The alleged Russian hack of US entities involved in the US political process is a problem. Of course we must separate their attempts to influence our election from the rash conclusion that they succeeded in altering the views of any American voter. We must be wary of escalatory retaliation to follow.

At 4:01PM, just as he would have received that email, Flynn called McFarland using his hotel phone. They discussed highly sensitive foreign policy issues on that unsecure phone for 11 minutes.

At 4:20PM, shortly but not immediately after speaking to McFarland about what surely included what Bossert had learned from Monaco’s representation of real time intelligence collection on and conversations with Russia, Flynn called the Ambassador to Russia, again from his hotel phone.

Even though Kislyak initiated the outreach after Obama had announced sanctions, Russia’s Ambassador feigned having called for other reasons, reasons that pre-dated the imposition of the sanctions. He went through them one-by-one:

  • He reassures Flynn that Russia won’t take any actions on the Middle East (notably Israel), particularly because it might change under the Trump Administration. He tells Flynn he has told Obama that.
  • He invites Flynn to send representatives to a Russian-Turkish conference on Syrian peace in Astana that will take place after Trump is inaugurated.
  • He proposes that Trump and Putin speak by secure videoconference on January 21, they day after the inauguration.

Flynn all but interrupted Kislyak and asked him to make sure that Obama not box Trump in (the fact that Flynn raised sanctions himself is one reason DOJ and FBI were so certain Flynn was lying when he claimed to the FBI that he never spoke about sanctions with Kislyak).

Flynn: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I understand. Okay, um, okay. Listen, uh, a couple of things. Number one, what I would ask you guys to do — and make sure you, make sure that you convey this, okay? — do not, do not uh, allow this administration to box us in, right now, okay? Um —

Kislyak: We have conveyed it. And–

Note: By saying “we have conveyed it,” Kislyak seems to suggest he has already gotten and fielded this request. That suggests that may be something that Flynn raised during their December 22 conversation, the transcript of which Ric Grenell has kept hidden.

Flynn continued, barreling through his request on sanctions.

Flynn: Yeah.

Kislyak: It’s, uh, it’s uh, very very specifically and transparently, openly.

Flynn: So, you know, depending on, depending on what uh, actions they take over this current issue of the cyber stuff, you know, where they’re looking like they’re gonna, they’re gonna dismiss some number of Russians out of the country, I understand all that and I understand that, that, you know, the information. that they have and all that, but what I would ask Russia to do is to not — is — is — if anything — because I know you have to have some sort of action — to, to only make it reciprocal. Make it reciprocal. Don’t — don’t make it — don’t go any further than you have to. Because I don’t want us to get into something that has to escalate, on a, you know, on a tit for tat. You follow me, Ambassador?

Kislyak sounded hesitant, noting that FSB and GRU couldn’t very well partner with the US on terrorism if they were under sanctions and Flynn agrees. Kislyak then agreed that he will try to “get the people in Moscow to understand it,” obviously a reference to Putin.

Then Flynn specifically framed Russia’s response as a kind of message to Trump.

Flynn: And please make sure that its uh — the idea is, be — if you, if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of even basis. Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we, where because if we put out — if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s, let’s keep this at a level that us is, even-keeled, okay? Is even-keeled. And then what we can do is, when we come in, we can then have a better conversation about where, where we’re gonna go, uh, regarding uh, regarding our relationship. [my emphasis]

And Russia’s response was viewed as a signal. KT McFarland said as much in two sets of emails, the first to Flynn, Kellogg, Spicer, Priebus, Bannon, and others (all at their official accounts):

My take is Russians are taking the most restrained retaliation possible — it’s his Signal to trump that he wants to improve relations once obama leaves. Although [Obama] didn’t mean to he has given [Trump] new leverage over Putin.

Then, hours later, she sent an email to Flynn, Kellogg (on his official account), Kushner, Priebus, and Spicer (at least some of whom were on on personal accounts), adding:

Putin response to NOT match obama tit for tat are signals they want a new relationship starting jan 20. They are sending us a signal.

Shortly thereafter, Trump thanked Putin for his restraint — the action that Flynn said would be interpreted by Trump as a message — publicly on Twitter, shortly after which McFarland wrote a cover email to hide that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak.

But Russia, knowing well that Kislyak was tapped, didn’t leave this implicit signaling to chance.

On December 31, Kislyak reached out to Flynn again, emphasizing that he had a message on top of what Putin’s decision said publicly. A key part of that message was that Trump and Russia were on the same side, pitted against the US government.

Kislyak: Uh, you know I have a small message to pass to you from Moscow and uh, probably you have heard about the decision taken by Moscow about action and counter-action.

Flynn: yeah, yeah well I appreciate it, you know, on our phone call the other day, you know, I, I, appreciate the steps that uh your president has taken. I think that it was wise.

Kislyak: I, I just wanted to tell you that our conversation was also taken into account in Moscow and…

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: Your proposal that we need to act with cold heads, uh, is exactly what is uh, invested in the decision.

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: And I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.

Flynn: yeah, yeah

Kislyak: and and with all our rights to responds we have decided not to act now because, its because people are dissatisfied with the lost of elections and, and its very deplorable. So, so I just wanted to let you know that our conversation was taken with weight.

This exchange was, transparently and successfully, an attempt to convince the paranoid Flynn and his insecure boss that Russia was on the same side as them, against all their detractors. Even when this transcript was released, it was clearly an attempt to play on the resentments of Flynn and his boss. Every single thing that has happened since suggests it worked, presumably with similar massaging along the way to reinforce that sentiment.

But with the release of the warrant applications targeting Flynn, we now know that these exchanges, with McFarland and Flynn holding off on a response until they learned what the Obama Administration knew about the Russian response, were conducted in significant part on totally unsecure devices — Flynn’s cell phone, his hotel phone, and at least Bannon and apparently several others using their private email to discuss how to respond to sanctions.

Thus, it’s likely that by the time Kislyak called Flynn back, Russian intelligence had picked up at least some of this back and forth. It’s likely he knew that Trump’s closest advisors were effectively treating Russia as a more trusted partner than the Obama Administration, and even using one of their only civil relationships with the Obama Administration, Bossert, to better counteract Obama’s actions in order to establish closer ties with Russia.

For years, Trump has falsely claimed that the Obama Administration spied on the Trump campaign. This exchange suggests the opposite happened: Trump used one of the only civil relationships his Transition team had with Obama not to ensure a smooth transition, but instead to use Obama’s information to more closely align with Russia.

Donald Trump Was Personally Involved in Flynn’s “Collusion” with Russia to Protect Israel

As noted earlier, Judge Emmet Sullivan has released the Mueller warrants targeting Mike Flynn. The two pertaining to his lies about the calls with Russia’s Ambassador — an August 2017 one targeting Flynn, KT McFarland, and his scheduler, and a September 2017 one targeting top Trump officials — make it crystal clear that Flynn knew he was lying when he covered up the calls, because he and McFarland were also lying to other Transition officials in real time. The affidavits also explain why Flynn lied: Trump was personally involved in (at least) the effort to undermine a UN effort targeting Israel.

Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak arose directly out of the “back channel” meeting with Jared Kushner

It has long been public that on November 30, 2016, Jared Kushner took a meeting with Sergey Kislyak at which he asked the Russian Ambassador if Russia could set up a back channel for communication with the Transition. Here’s the description from the Mueller Report:

It took place at Trump Tower on November 30, 2016.1139 At Kushner’s invitation, Flynn also attended; Bannon was invited but did not attend.1140 During the meeting, which lasted approximately 30 minutes, Kushner expressed a desire on the part of the incoming Administration to start afresh with U.S.-Russian relations.1141 Kushner also asked Kislyak to identify the best person (whether Kislyak or someone else) with whom to direct future discussions—someone who had contact with Putin and the ability to speak for him.1142

The three men also discussed U.S. policy toward Syria, and Kislyak floated the idea of having Russian generals brief the Transition Team on the topic using a secure communications line.1143 After Flynn explained that there was no secure line in the Transition Team offices, Kushner asked Kislyak if they could communicate using secure facilities at the Russian Embassy. 1144 Kislyak quickly rejected that idea. 1145 4.

It was also public that, following that meeting, Kislyak started working on setting up a meeting between sanctioned banker Sergey Gorkov and the President’s son-in-law.

On December 6, 2016, the Russian Embassy reached out to Kushner’s assistant to set up a second meeting between Kislyak and Kushner. 1146 Kushner declined several proposed meeting dates, but Kushner’s assistant indicated that Kislyak was very insistent about securing a second meeting. 1147

What wasn’t public is that, in response to these same requests for a meeting that (Kushner claimed in his testimony) Kushner rebuffed, he also ordered Flynn to respond.

[On December 6, 2017] The Embassy official also asked Kushner’s assistant to provide him with the contact information for FLYNN and to ask FLYNN to call the Russian Ambassador at either his home number or his cell phone number. Kushner’s assistant forwarded the email chain to FLYNN’s Chief of Staff, cc’ing FLYNN himself, and wrote “Please see the correspondence below and ensure Lt. General Flynn gets in contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey via phone.

That set off a debate. Marshall Billingslea, who had experience in government, recommended they postpone any response until after inauguration. But KT McFarland objected.

Let Flynn make this decision. Russian amb historically does meet with nsc head. Their amb to USA and to UN is of a very high rank with close relations to Putin. Plus Flynn has met with him in past.

McFarland’s stance is completely at odds with the claimed view of both Flynn and especially Kushner that Kislyak wasn’t the right person to liaise with. And it also may explain why she and Flynn hid some of his contacts with Kislyak even from other Transition staffers: because they knew this was wrong.

Trump was probably directly involved in the effort to delay a UN veto condemning Israel

The language from the affidavits on the Kushner-driven effort to undermine Obama’s position on an Egyptian condemnation of illegal Israeli settlements includes several important details.

First, it all started when a “senior advisor to a Republican Senator” reached out to McFarland and others (several at their personal accounts) alerting them that the Obama Administration was not responding to the effort. Jared was very centrally involved in the response.

According to records obtained during the course of the investigation, at approximately 8:46 a.m. on December 22, 2016, FLYNN had a four-minute conversation with Jared Kushner. After that conversation concluded, at approximately 8:53 a.m., FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. FLYNN then called a representative of the Egyptian government and had a four-minute conversation with him. At approximately 8:59 a.m., FLYNN had a three-minute conversation with the Russian Ambassador. Over the next few hours, FLYNN had several additional phone calls with the representative of the Egyptian government.

Remember: The DC Attorney’s Office was investigating a bribe from Egypt that allowed the Trump campaign to stay afloat after they had gone broke in August 2016; Barr shut that investigation down.

The entire UN intervention is way more damning that previously reported. First, it’s quite clear that Flynn reached out to both Russia and Egypt, and because McFarland bragged about his success with others, everyone knew that to be true. That didn’t prevent Kushner from lying to the larger group email about the fact after Egypt announced that they would stand down.

Kushner replied all to that email [including Spicer, Bannon, Priebus, Kellogg, McFarland, Kushner, and one other person whose name is redacted] and wrote: “Can we make it clear that Al Sisi reached out to DJT so it doesn’t look like we reached out to intercede? This happens to be the true fact pattern and better for this to be out there.”

This was a lie. Flynn had reached out, on Kushner’s orders.

Or maybe not just Kushner’s. The affidavit reveals that Trump was involved with this.

At approximately 8:26 p.m. on December 22, 2016, K.T. McFarland emailed FLYNN and Sarah Flaherty and stated that FLYNN had “worked it all day with trump from mara lago.”

Remember, Ric Grenell withheld the transcript from the call Flynn placed to Kislyak on December 22 and in fact the affidavits show Flynn and. Kislyak had two conversations that day (Mueller significantly downplayed Russia’s concessions on the December 23 one). There’s a latter call (the December 29 one) where the analysts suggest that Flynn might be on a speaker phone.

That suggests it’s possible that Trump was on the call with Kislyak, or at least in the room. That might explain why Kushner immediately tried to establish a false record that Egypt had contacted the Trump Transition, not vice versa.

One more thing makes this exchange especially damning. Flynn wrote to the larger group on December 23 and revealed he had called the Ambassador. Then, later that day, McFarland said that Flynn should leak to the press about,

the crucial role [he] played in working your contacts built up over the decades to get administration ambush Israel headed off. You worked the phones with Japanese Russians Egyptians Spanish etc and reversed a sure defeat for Israel by kerry/Obama/susan rice/samantha power cabal.

Those communications make it far less credible that he forgot this effort, which makes the personal involvement of Donald Trump far more interesting.

Note, there appears to be another contact involving Russia (possibly not with Kislyak directly) on December 23 and the affidavits also confirm that Flynn did make a condolence call on December 20 to Russia about the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey. Grenell did not release these transcripts either.

Flynn lied about his sanctions discussion to hide that Mar-a-Lago was involved

As I have explained, the reason Flynn’s lies to the FBI were material is because he was hiding that he coordinated his calls with Mar-a-Lago. Even Sidney Powell has submitted clear evidence that investigators considered that a key question. Flynn lied to the FBI by saying that he didn’t know about Obama’s sanctions announcement when he contacted Kislyak because he was out of the loop in Dominican Republic. But the timeline laid out the in affidavit makes clear how blatant a lie that was. Here’s what it looks like (I’ve bolded details in this timeline that Mueller hid in the report, as noted in this post):

December 28

11:24AM: Obama Twitter account announces sanctions against Russia, with link to description

December 29

11:49AM: McFarland emails Flynn and three others.

1:53PM: McFarland and other Transition Team members and advisors (including Flynn, via email) discuss sanctions.

2:07PM: Sarah Flaherty, an aide to McFarland, texts Flynn a link to a NYT article about the sanctions.

2:29PM: McFarland, using her GSA phone, calls Flynn (on his personal phone), but they don’t talk.

Shortly after 2:29PM: McFarland and Bannon discuss sanctions; according to McFarland’s clean-up interview, she may have told Bannon that Flynn would speak to Kislyak that night.

3:14PM: Flynn texts Flaherty and asks “time for a call??,” meaning McFarland. Flaherty responds that McFarland was on the phone with Tom Bossert. Flynn informs Flaherty in writing that he had a call with Kislyak coming up, using the language, “tit for tat,” that McFarland used on emails with others and that Flynn himself would use with Kislyak later that day.

Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today.

3:50PM: McFarland (apparently using her GSA phone) calls Flynn, they speak for 6:39 minutes

[Note: Somewhere in here, Flynn called SJC Staffer Barbara Ledeen’s spouse, Michael, which makes her involvement in undermining the investigation all the more corrupt]

4:01PM: Someone (likely Tom Bossert) relays what Lisa Monaco passed on to him to Flynn, McFarland, Bannon, Kellogg, and Priebus  explaining that “Russiand [sic] have already responded with strong threats, promising to retaliate. [She] characterized the Russian response as bellicose.

4:20PM: Using his hotel phone in the Dominican Republic (!!!!), Flynn calls the Russian Embassy

4:43PM: McFarland emails Flynn, Kellogg, Flaherty, Spicer, Priebus, Bannon and one other (likely Bossert), saying that,  “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.”

4:44PM: Flynn emails McFarland and two others.

Before 5:45PM: McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and others on the sanctions. McFarland remembers that someone at the briefing may have mentioned the upcoming Kislyak call.

6:05PM: McFarland emails Gelbinovich and one other person.

After the briefing: McFarland and Flynn speak by phone (they spoke from 6:08 to 6:35PM). Flynn tells McFarland, “that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration,” and McFarland tells Flynn about the briefing with Trump.

10:06PM: Gelbinovich emails Flynn.

This timeline makes clear that Flynn and McFarland spoke about sanctions before Bossert relayed what Monaco had passed on tho him, and Flynn may have reviewed Bossert’s email, reflecting his inquiry to Monaco, before he called Kislyak. Importantly, by the time of the security briefing that day, Flynn had already spoken to Kislyak.

The affidavit then makes it clear how damning it is that McFarland wrote an email deliberately hiding that (she knew) Flynn had raised sanctions with Kislyak:

December 30

5:32AM: Sergey Lavrov says Russia will respond

7:15AM: Putin says they won’t respond

7:29AM: McFarland emails Flynn and two others

8AM: McFarland emails a group (again, Flynn appears to have been on his personal email) stating that Putin was sending a signal to Trump he wants to improve relations

10:50AM: McFarland emails the group again saying that “Putin response to NOT match obama tit for tat are signals they want a new relationship starting jan 20. They are sending us a signal.”

11:41AM: Trump tweets “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”

12:02PM: McFarland sends email to group with summary of Flynn’s call with Kislyak that “does not indicate that they discussed the sanctions”

Flynn would ultimately admit that the text he sent to McFarland that she used to inform the others deliberately left off his mention of sanctions.

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.126

The timing, of course, is key: Once Trump weighed in, Flynn built plausible deniability that Trump had initiated outreach to Kislyak. Remember: The transcript shows that Flynn, not Kislyak, raised sanctions.

The affidavits have more on both Flynn and McFarland’s exchanges on December 31, when Flynn told Kislyak that Trump was aware of their calls, as well as details about how Flynn crafted a knowingly false cover story for the press. They also reveal another follow-up call from Russia on January 6.

Together, however, these affidavits make any claim from Mike Flynn that he didn’t deliberately lie to the FBI to be an utter fabrication. He and McFarland were lying to top Trump officials in real time. They were doing so to hide Trump’s personal involvement in all this from their own colleagues.

The affidavits also make it clear that the US government has abundant evidence to prove that Mike Flynn lied, just with the paper trail and the testimony of Trump officials as well as abundant DOJ documents helpfully released by Sidney Powell showing that every single account of Flynn’s interview DOJ has tracks with the 302 on which he was charged. They don’t need Peter Strzok or Joe Pientka’s testimony to prove Mike Flynn lied. Flynn and McFarland already made that case.

And we know why Flynn lied: Trump not only knew of Flynn’s calls to Kislyak. He may have been on the line for the Israeli-related ones.

“Looking Forward” Will Be Harder for President Biden than It Was for President Obama

NBC has a story that has caused a bit of panic, reporting that “Biden hopes to avoid divisive Trump investigations, preferring unity.”

The panic is overblown, given that the main point of the story is that Biden is hoping that DOJ will resume a more independent stance than that taken, especially, by Billy Barr.

Biden wants his Justice Department to function independently from the White House, aides said, and Biden isn’t going to tell federal law enforcement officials whom or what to investigate or not to investigate.

“His overarching view is that we need to move the country forward,” an adviser said. “But the most important thing on this is that he will not interfere with his Justice Department and not politicize his Justice Department.”

If there were to be investigations of Trump, everyone should want them to be completely insulated from the White House.

The story raises two more specific types of investigations which are both likely moot.

They said he has specifically told advisers that he is wary of federal tax investigations of Trump or of challenging any orders Trump may issue granting immunity to members of his staff before he leaves office. One adviser said Biden has made it clear that he “just wants to move on.”

Another Biden adviser said, “He’s going to be more oriented toward fixing the problems and moving forward than prosecuting them.”

New York state already has a tax investigation into Trump, so a federal one would be duplicative. And the pardon power is absolute; there’s little likelihood DOJ could investigate the pardons that Trump grants, because doing so would be constitutionally suspect.

All that said, attempting to move forward may not be as easy for President Biden as it was for President Obama.

That’s because there are a number of investigations that implicate Trump that are either pending (as of right now, but I don’t rule out Trump trying to kill them in the interim) or were shut down corruptly, to say nothing of the obstruction charges Mueller effectively recommended (which aforementioned pardons would renew, even in spite of DOJ’s declination prior to pardons). At a minimum, those include:

  • The Build the Wall fraud case against Steve Bannon and others that might, eventually, implicate the failson or his close buddies
  • The Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas graft which clearly implicates Rudy Giuliani and by all rights should always have included Trump’s extortion of Volodymyr Zelensky; given the timing of David Correia’s plea, it’s likely there will be grand jury testimony from him banked
  • Other foreign agent charges against Rudy
  • The investigation into Erik Prince for selling his private mercenary services to China
  • False statements charges against Ryan Zinke that Jeffrey Rosen attempted to kill
  • Various campaign finance and grift charges implicating Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Brad Parscale, to say nothing of the hush payments involving Trump personally
  • Possible hack-and-leak charges against Roger Stone from 2016, as well as the related pardon quid pro quo for Julian Assange implicating Trump himself
  • The possible aftermath of Judge Sullivan’s decisions in the Mike Flynn case, which could include perjury referrals or an invitation for DOJ to prosecute Flynn on the foreign agent charges he pled out of

All of these investigations still do or were known to exist, and if they no longer exist when Biden’s Attorney General arrives at DOJ, it will be because of improper interference from Barr.

The last of these might get particularly awkward given that multiple people at Billy Barr’s DOJ, possibly in conjunction with Sidney Powell and Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis, altered documents to concoct a smear targeting Joe Biden in a false claim that he invented a rationale to investigate Flynn for undermining sanctions on Russia. You cannot have an independent DOJ if the people who weaponized it in such a way go unpunished. Except investigating such actions would immediately devolve into a partisan fight, particularly if Republicans retain control of the Senate. (This particular issue will most easily be addressed, and I suspect already is being addressed, via a DOJ IG investigation.)

Still, in the other cases, DOJ may need to decide what to do with investigations improperly closed by Barr, or what to do with investigations where just some of the defendants (such as Fruman and Bannon) get pardons.

And all this will undoubtedly play against the background of the confirmation battle for whomever Biden nominates. I would be shocked if Mitch McConnell (especially if he remains Majority Leader) didn’t demand certain promises before an Attorney General nominee got approved.

So none of this will be easy.

A far more interesting question will pertain to what President Biden does about the ICC investigation into US war crimes in Afghanistan, crimes that occurred during both the Bush and Obama Administrations. Mike Pompeo launched an indefensible assault against the ICC in an attempt to block this investigation, sanctioning ICC officials leading the investigation. Biden’s Secretary of State will have to decide whether to reverse those sanctions, effectively making a decision about whether to look forward to ignore crimes committed (in part) under Barack Obama.

Roger Stone’s 2016 “Stop the Steal” Effort May Have Been Coordinated with Russia

CNN has traced out in detail what I’ve been noting for some time: the “Stop the Steal” effort ginning up disinformation and threats of violence in the wake of Donald Trump’s loss is a repackaged version of an effort that Roger Stone rolled out in 2016.

[W]hile Stop the Steal may sound like a new 2020 political slogan to many, it did not emerge organically over widespread concerns about voting fraud in President Donald Trump’s race against Joe Biden. It has been in the works for years.

Its origin traces to Roger Stone, a veteran Republican operative and self-described “dirty trickster” whose 40-month prison sentence for seven felonies was cut short by Trump’s commutation in July.

Stone’s political action committee launched a “Stop the Steal” website in 2016 to fundraise ahead of that election, asking for $10,000 donations by saying, “If this election is close, THEY WILL STEAL IT.”

But CNN — with four journalists bylined — misses several important parts of that earlier story, parts that are critical to understanding the stakes for Steve Bannon and Stone now.

Stone may have mixed his political fundraising

First, there’s good reason to believe that Stone was not segregating the different kinds of campaign finance organizations he was using for his 2016 rat-fucking. Even from what remained of his public infrastructure when I wrote this post, it showed that fundraising for one kind of dark money group went to links associated with a PAC.

[I]t’s clear he wasn’t segregating the fundraising for them, and I wonder whether some of his email fundraising involved other possible campaign finance violations. For example, here’s the Stop the Steal site as it existed on March 10, 2016. It was clearly trying to track fundraising, carefully instructing people to respond to emails if they received one. But it claimed to be TCTRAG (what I call CRAG), even though the incoming URL was for Stop the Steal.

That remained true even after Stop the Steal was formally created, on April 10. Even after the website changed language to disavow Stop the Steal being a PAC by April 23, the fundraising form still went to TCTRAG (what I call CRAG), a PAC.

In other words, people would click a link thinking it would fund one effort (and one kind of legal entity) and any money donated would instead go to another effort (and another kind of legal entity). Since then, we’ve learned more about how everyone associated with Trump — Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, and Brad Parscale, in addition to Stone — set up these entities to get rich off of Trump. It’s one reason the rivalry between Lewandowski and Manafort was so heated: because one’s relative prominence in Trump’s campaign effort was directly related to the amount of money that one could grift from it.

But as Bannon’s indictment for fraud makes clear, telling people they’re donating money for one purpose (to build a wall) but using the money for other purposes (to support Bannon’s pricey lifestyle) can be prosecuted as fraud.

When Andrew Miller was negotiating testimony about Stone, he specifically asked for immunity relating to Stone’s PACs and his texts with Stone that the government subpoenaed after his grand jury appearance overlapped with that campaign slush.

In 2016, Stone was (illegally) coordinating with the campaign

As appears to have been the case for all these efforts to grift off the campaign, Stone was coordinating his PAC and dark money efforts with the campaign.

We learned that, in Stone’s case, starting with a legal debate in the lead-up to Stone’s trial about 404(b) information, which is information about other bad actions (including crimes) that prosecutors are permitted to introduce during a trial to prove something like motive or consistent behavior.

In advance of Stone’s trial prosecutors got permission to introduce evidence that Stone lied about something in his HPSCI testimony, on top of all the lies about who his go-between with WikiLeaks was, only that other lie wasn’t charged.

At the pretrial conference held on September 25, 2019, the Court deferred ruling on that portion of the Government’s Notice of Intention to Introduce Rule 404(b) evidence [Dkt. # 140] that sought the introduction of evidence related to another alleged false statement to the HPSCI, which, like the statement charged in Count Six, relates to the defendant’s communications with the Trump campaign. After further review of the arguments made by the parties and the relevant authorities, and considering both the fact that the defendant has stated publicly that his alleged false statements were merely accidental, and that he is charged not only with making individual false statements, but also with corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the proceedings in general, the evidence will be admitted, with an appropriate limiting instruction. See Lavelle v. United States, 751 F.2d 1266, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1985), citing United States v. DeLoach, 654 F.2d 763 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (given the defendant’s claim that she was simply confused and did not intend to deceive Congress, evidence of false testimony in other instances was relevant to her intent and passed the threshold under Rule 404(b)). The Court further finds that the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson permitted prosecutors to include it because it showed that Stone was trying to cover up all of his coordination with the campaign.

A September hearing about this topic made clear that it pertained to what Stone’s PACs were doing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Marando argued that Stone falsely denied communicating with Trump’s campaign about his political-action-committee-related activities, and that the lie revealed his calculated plan to cover up his ties to the campaign and obstruct the committee’s work.

This debate suggested prosecutors could present the information via just one witness, but unless I’m misunderstanding, it actually came in via two witnesses: There were a number of texts between Rick Gates and Stone where Stone kept demanding lists from the campaign (indeed, this is something that Stone’s lawyers actually emphasized!). And during the period when Bannon was campaign manager, Stone asked him to get Rebekah Mercer to support some of his other activities, designed to suppress the black vote.

Both of these communications show that Stone was at least attempting to coordinate his efforts with the campaign (it’s not clear to what degree Gates responded to Stone’s demands), and the second detail shows that he was coordinating with Bannon, the guy who took over the Stop the Steal effort this year.

This kind of coordination is illegal (albeit common), though Billy Barr’s DOJ refused to prosecute Trump for any of it (and he even appears to have shut down an investigation into what appeared to be a kickback system Manafort used to get paid).

Stone’s Stop the Steal efforts paralleled the voter suppression efforts of the Russian operation

Even back when I examined Stone’s Stop the Steal efforts in 2018 (when I was skeptical about his legal liability with respect to WikiLeaks), it was clear that the steps Stone took happened to coincide with Russia’s efforts.

Stone’s voter suppression effort is not surprising. It’s the kind of thing the rat-fucker has been doing his entire life.

Except it’s of particular interest in 2016 because of the specific form it took. That’s because two aspects of Stone’s voter suppression efforts paralleled Russian efforts. For example, even as Stone was recruiting thousands of “exit pollers” to intimidate people of color, Guccifer 2.0 was promising to register as an election observer, in part because of the “holes and vulnerabilities” in the software of the machines.

INFO FROM INSIDE THE FEC: THE DEMOCRATS MAY RIG THE ELECTIONS

I’d like to warn you that the Democrats may rig the elections on November 8. This may be possible because of the software installed in the FEC networks by the large IT companies.

As I’ve already said, their software is of poor quality, with many holes and vulnerabilities.

I have registered in the FEC electronic system as an independent election observer; so I will monitor that the elections are held honestly.

I also call on other hackers to join me, monitor the elections from inside and inform the U.S. society about the facts of electoral fraud.

More interesting still, the GRU indictment makes it clear that GRU’s information operation hackers were probing county electoral websites in swing states as late as October 28.

In or around October 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators further targeted state and county offices responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. elections. For example, on or about October 28, 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators visited the websites of certain counties in Georgia, Iowa, and Florida to identify vulnerabilities.

Whether or not GRU ever intended to alter the vote, Russia’s propagandists were providing the digital “proof” that Republicans might point to to sustain their claims that Democrats had rigged the election.

This is a line that Wikileaks also parroted, DMing Don Jr that if Hillary won his pop should not concede.

Hi Don if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred—as he has implied that he might do.

Since that time, we’ve learned that Maria Butina and Sergey Kislyak were also aiming to focus on observing polls in 2016. We’ve learned that the GRU hackers were actually targeting conservative Florida counties in 2016 (including Matt Gaetz’s district), meaning that had Trump lost he might have turned to the hacking of GOP strongholds to claim that that hacking had undermined his vote totals in Florida.

There are also indications that Mueller was pursuing evidence that not only Stone, but also Paul Manafort, had advance notice of all this. For example, Manafort got asked about Russians hacking voting machines in regards to a November 5, 2016 note he sent to the campaign regarding “Securing the Victory” (which admittedly is a slightly different topic but one that might have elicited an answer about hacking the Boards of Election if Manafort were at all inclined to tell the truth, which he was not).

All of which is to say that, had Hillary won narrowly (as Biden won by close margins in enough states to amount to a resounding victory), we probably would have seen Stone’s Stop the Steal effort to be doing precisely what Bannon’s Stop the Steal has been doing this year, both delegitimizing the outcome and sowing violence. But in that case, the effort may have been accompanied by possible foreknowledge that a close investigation of certain GOP strongholds would disclose proof of tampering in the election.

Stone pitched Bannon on a way to win ugly the day he became Campaign Manager

At this point, I’ve come to believe that prosecutors used their live witnesses at Stone’s trial (aside from former FBI Agent Michelle Taylor, who introduced most of the evidence) to make certain testimony public regarding other investigative prongs. For example, prosecutors got Gates to testify publicly that Stone claimed involvement in the release of stolen emails at a time when only Guccifer 2.0 was releasing them, not WikiLeaks. Prosecutors got Randy Credico to confirm publicly that shortly after the election, he helped Stone try to pay off his election debt by pardoning Julian Assange.

And prosecutors got Steve Bannon to — very reluctantly — repeat grand jury testimony that he regarded a pitch that Stone made to him the day after he became campaign manager to be related to dirty tricks and WikiLeaks.

Prosecutors introduced a similar exchange with Steve Bannon, the guy who took over from Manafort weeks later: an August 18, 2016 email exchange  where Stone claimed Trump could “still win” … “but it ain’t pretty,” and Bannon responded by asking to talk ASAP.

Manafort didn’t testify at Stone’s trial. But Bannon did. Prosecutors had Bannon sitting there on the stand, forcing him to repeat what he had said to a grand jury earlier in the year, yet they only asked him to say this much about what all this means, in which he begrudgingly admitted he believed this discussion about using social media to win was about WikiLeaks:

Q. At the bottom of this email Mr. Stone states, “Trump can still win, but time is running out. Early voting begins in six weeks. I do know how to win this, but it ain’t pretty. Campaign has never been good at playing the new media. Lots to do, let me know when you can talk, R.” Did I read that correctly?

A. That’s correct.

Q. Then you respond, “Let’s talk ASAP”; am I correct?

A. That’s correct.

Q. When Mr. Stone wrote to you, “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty,” what in your mind did you understand that to mean?

A. Well, Roger is an agent provocateur, he’s an expert in opposition research. He’s an expert in the tougher side of politics. And when you’re this far behind, you have to use every tool in the toolbox.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Well, opposition research, dirty tricks, the types of things that campaigns use when they have got to make up some ground.

Q. Did you view that as sort of value added that Mr. Stone could add to the campaign?

A. Potentially value added, yes.

Q. Was one of the ways that Mr. Stone could add value to the campaign his relationship with WikiLeaks or Julian Assange?

A. I don’t know if I thought it at the time, but he could — you know, I was led to believe that he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

Even though prosecutors didn’t lay out precisely what happened next — something that other evidence suggests may have implicated Jared Kushner — Stone’s team never challenged the prosecution claim that this email and the subsequent exchanges did pertain to WikiLeaks. Perhaps, because they had reviewed Bannon’s grand jury and more recent testimony, they knew how he would respond and thought better off leaving it unchallenged.

Perhaps, too, they didn’t want to have to explain how long this exchange persisted. For example, the Stone affidavits — starting with one obtained after Bannon’s first testimony — showed this particular email exchange lasted two more days, through August 19 and 20 (the day before the Podesta “time in the barrel” tweet).

On August 19, 2016, Bannon sent Stone a text message asking if he could talk that morning. On August 20, 2016, Stone replied, “when can u talk???”

And those discussions may have continued into face-to-face meetings in September.

On September 4, 2016, Stone texted Bannon that he was in New York City for a few more days, and asked if Bannon was able to talk.

[snip]

On September 7, 2016, Stone and Bannon texted to arrange a meeting on September 8, 2016 at the Warner Center in New York.

On September 7, 2016, Bannon texted Stone asking him if he could “come by trump tower now???”

On September 8, 2016, Stone and Bannon texted about arranging a meeting in New York.

This is a lot of back-and-forth to discuss the “the tougher side of politics.”

Even though they had Bannon there on the stand, prosecutors did not get him to explain what this plan to win ugly entailed. So we don’t know whether it pertained to Stone’s efforts to suppress the black vote, his Stop the Steal effort to discredit a potential Hillary win, or something more (I’ll eventually get around to what that something more might be). But we do know that when Bannon enthusiastically responded to those pitches, he expected Stone’s plan to win ugly would involve dirty tricks and WikiLeaks.

Stone’s real go-between with WikiLeaks was likely Guccifer 2.0

No one involved with the Trump campaign — at least as far as is public — claims to have known who Stone’s claimed tie to WikiLeaks was.

But Rick Gates apparently did testify that Stone claimed to have a tie to Guccifer 2.0 well before the time he was DMing with the persona on Twitter. The FBI had evidence (though how good it is remains inconclusive) that he was searching on both Guccifer 2.0 and dcleaks before those sites went live. When prosecutors wrote the Mueller Report in March 2019, they still had not determined whether any proof they had of Stone’s awareness of Russia’s ongoing hacking — which extended until November 2016 — was sufficient proof beyond reasonable doubt to charge him as part of the hack-and-leak conspiracy.

As I have argued, there is evidence, albeit not conclusive, that Stone’s go-between with WikiLeaks was Guccifer 2.0.

If that’s right, it suggests that Stone’s parallel efforts with Guccifer 2.0’s, efforts that seemingly anticipated hacks that might have served to discredit the vote in 2016, may not have been coincidence or even just a result of the seeming dance via which Trump’s team and Russia followed the same path without any coordination. It may have reflected coordination.

Let me very clear: I’m not making any claims that happened this year. There’s no evidence of it, and those who tracked election tampering efforts have said they found none.

But until Billy Barr intervened in Stone’s sentencing, all this was (at least per FOIA redactions) an ongoing investigation, the investigation that Stone’s prosecution served, in part, as an investigative step in. If you put that together with Bannon’s own legal exposure in the Build the Wall fraud indictment, it changes the stakes on these men’s efforts to curry Trump’s favor (and to ensure he remains in power, via whatever means).

If Trump remains in charge of DOJ, these men will stay out of prison. If he doesn’t, they may not. And for Stone, especially, a Joe Biden DOJ (or a Democratic Congress, with DOJ’s help) may reveal what he has been denying for years, that Stone willingly coordinated during the 2016 election with someone whose ties to Russia were only thinly hidden.

Steve Bannon and His Competent Lawyers Part Ways

It has been hard to understand Steve Bannon’s desperate efforts to sell a Hunter Biden conspiracy in recent weeks outside the context of a pardon audition. He is already charged with fraud for diverting funds donated to build a wall to his own pocketbook. And there’s a lot about the Hunter Biden story that reeks of fraud, if not serving as an Agent of a Foreign Power.

Then, last night, he said that Anthony Fauci and Chris Wray should be beheaded and have their heads put on pikes outside the White House as a warning. He got banned permanently from Twitter as a result.

If you consider the fact that the investigation — led by the FBI — into Bannon’s charged fraud is ongoing, that comes off as a threat to someone involved in his case (though is probably not why he made the comment). Roger Stone did far less and got a gag placed on him while he was out on bail.

Today, William Burck, the very competent lawyer who shepherded Bannon through a whole lot of evolving testimony in the Mueller investigation sent a letter saying they’re going to withdraw from the case.

On behalf of Defendant Stephen Bannon, we write respectfully to request an adjournment of the status conference currently scheduled for Monday, November 9 at 1:00 p.m. Mr. Bannon is in the process of retaining new counsel, and Quinn Emanuel intends to move to withdraw. As a result, Mr. Bannon respectfully requests that the status conference in this matter be adjourned for three weeks so that he may formally retain new counsel.

We have conferred with counsel for the government and for Defendants Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato, and Timothy Shea, all of whom consent to an adjournment. This is the second request Mr. Bannon has made for an adjournment of this status conference.

This could be nothing more than Quinn Emanuel’s unwillingness to represent someone who engages in such action. Or, there may be a larger underlying strategic dispute, one that might extend to how Bannon might audition for a pardon.

But when Mike Flynn took a similar step over a year ago, it didn’t work out the way he hoped.

Child Rapist George Nader Introduced Dick Cheney and Ahmad Chalabi

Last night, BuzzFeed released the second-to-last dump of 302s in their Mueller FOIA. There’s a ton that’s interesting in it (and I’m just skimming much of it). But — as I said to Jason Leopold — this George Nader interview, by itself, made the FOIA dump worth the price of admission.

There’s a ton of details about how he brokered meetings between Erik Prince and Kirill Dmitriev and lots of significantly redacted discussions of meetings with Don Jr. There’s great theater where, several times, Nader denied something, including meeting “any” Russian government officials at a trip to the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June 2016, only to have Mueller’s team show him a picture (in the case of Putin) or a text (in the case of his denials that he had met Steve Bannon) that forced him to immediately backtrack off his claims. Nader describes how he — a convicted pedophile during this entire period — could get along with all sides: Clinton and Trump, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Everyone’s favorite child rapist.

But by far the craziest part of this amazing interview — the thing that has my brain reeling this afternoon — has nothing to do with Russia.

In describing his background, you see, Nader claimed that he’s the one who introduced Ahmad Chalabi to Dick Cheney.

For those who don’t remember, Chalabi had a significant role in drumming up the Iraq War (here’s what I wrote after he died in 2015, and here’s a piece I wrote about him 10 years earlier, in advance of my book on such things). So by introducing Chalabi to Cheney, Nader played some role — how big, it’s unclear — in perhaps the single greatest American foreign policy debacle of all time.

And now he’s rotting away in prison for trafficking a boy.

Rat-Fucker Rashomon: Steve Bannon and Dirty Tricks

Thus far in my Rat-Fucker Rashomon story, I’ve shown strong evidence that Roger Stone not only knew that John Podesta’s emails were coming, but knew or had the contents of some documents pertaining to an attack he had already been making on John Podesta. I showed that the timing of that release — via whatever means — likely served more to drown out the Russian attribution than the Access Hollywood tape, which has important implications for how he might have coordinated with WikiLeaks. And I suggested that the evidence Stone had far earlier knowledge of what the Russians were doing, even during the period when they were still hacking the DNC’s servers, makes some of all this focus on Podesta less important.

But there’s a limit to that claim. That’s because we still don’t know whether, when Stone promised he knew how to get Trump elected in the same period he was pursuing the Podesta files, that plan consisted just of optimizing the Podesta files, or whether there was something more. That makes the stories not told at Roger Stone’s trial all the more exasperating.

One of the most unsatisfying aspects of the Roger Stone trial, particularly for inattentive watchers, was that prosecutors never told us how Stone had gotten advance knowledge of what stolen emails would be released — nor even asserted as fact that he did.

As I keep noting, that’s not what they had to prove to win a guilty verdict.

But even more frustrating is the way DOJ proved its case that Stone had discussed WikiLeaks with the campaign. On at least three different occasions, the prosecution pointed to far more enticing communications about what really happened, but did not tell us what those communications meant.

The texts between Stone and Erik Prince on October 4, 2016 are one innocuous example.

They clearly pertain to WikiLeaks, which is all the prosecution needed to prove — that Stone had communications with people like Prince about advance knowledge of WikiLeaks that he subsequently lied about to cover up. But in the exhibit (which was entered by the FBI Agent; Prince was not called as a witness) there’s a reference — “Yes,” Stone confirmed he had heard more “from London” in the interim 7.5 hours since he had told Prince he was “checking” whether Assange had chickened out, then said, “want to talk on a secure line — got Whataspp?” to something far more interesting.

Affidavits obtained in early 2019 show that Stone first downloaded WhatsApp on October 4, suggesting he downloaded it solely to communicate with Prince (even though Stone already had Signal on his phone).

This is one of the rare areas where the Mueller Report provided more evidence than appeared at the trial. It revealed that Prince testified that,

Stone and Prince did speak subsequently, and Stone said that WikiLeaks would release more materials that would be damaging to the Clinton campaign. Stone also indicated to Prince that he had what Prince described  as almost “insider stock trading” type information about Assange.

But Prince didn’t testify at the trial, and it would be beyond the scope of what prosecutors needed to prove, and so we didn’t get to hear more about this “insider stock trading” information. Damnit.

In two other cases, though, prosecutors pointed to more substantive discussions that weren’t clearly labeled as WikiLeaks discussions, but which prosecutors presented as evidence that Stone was talking to the campaign about the upcoming releases. One was the August 3, 2016 email to Paul Manafort where he floated “an idea … to save Trump’s ass.”

As I noted in this post, Manafort seemed to try to hide this email and any follow-up conversation up in an interview with Mueller. And while Stone’s defense challenged whether this email was really related to WikiLeaks, in his closing argument, Jonathan Kravis argued that the plan was to use WikiLeaks releases to discredit Hillary.

On August 3rd, 2016, Stone writes to Manafort: “I have an idea to save Trump’s ass. Call me please.” What is Stone’s idea to save Trump’s ass? It’s to use the information about WikiLeaks releases that he just got from Jerome Corsi. How do know that’s what he had in mind; because that’s exactly what he did. As you just saw, just days after Stone sends this email to Paul Manafort, “I have an idea to save Trump’s ass,” he goes out on TV, on conference calls and starts plotting this information that he’s getting from Corsi: WikiLeaks has more stuff coming out, it’s really bad for Hillary Clinton.

Tactically, introducing the email was not at all necessary. Prosecutors had more than proven that Stone had lied about talking to the campaign. And the SSCI Report makes clear there was a shit-ton of other evidence that made this clear they could have used instead. But for whatever reason, they did include it, tying Stone’s attempts to cover up these conversations with the way Trump won.

Prosecutors introduced a similar exchange with Steve Bannon, the guy who took over from Manafort weeks later: an August 18, 2016 email exchange  where Stone claimed Trump could “still win” … “but it ain’t pretty,” and Bannon responded by asking to talk ASAP.

Manafort didn’t testify at Stone’s trial. But Bannon did. Prosecutors had Bannon sitting there on the stand, forcing him to repeat what he had said to a grand jury earlier in the year, yet they only asked him to say this much about what all this means, in which he begrudgingly admitted he believed this discussion about using social media to win was about WikiLeaks:

Q. At the bottom of this email Mr. Stone states, “Trump can still win, but time is running out. Early voting begins in six weeks. I do know how to win this, but it ain’t pretty. Campaign has never been good at playing the new media. Lots to do, let me know when you can talk, R.” Did I read that correctly?

A. That’s correct.

Q. Then you respond, “Let’s talk ASAP”; am I correct?

A. That’s correct.

Q. When Mr. Stone wrote to you, “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty,” what in your mind did you understand that to mean?

A. Well, Roger is an agent provocateur, he’s an expert in opposition research. He’s an expert in the tougher side of politics. And when you’re this far behind, you have to use every tool in the toolbox.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Well, opposition research, dirty tricks, the types of things that campaigns use when they have got to make up some ground.

Q. Did you view that as sort of value added that Mr. Stone could add to the campaign?

A. Potentially value added, yes.

Q. Was one of the ways that Mr. Stone could add value to the campaign his relationship with WikiLeaks or Julian Assange?

A. I don’t know if I thought it at the time, but he could — you know, I was led to believe that he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

Even though prosecutors didn’t lay out precisely what happened next — something that other evidence suggests may have implicated Jared Kushner — Stone’s team never challenged the prosecution claim that this email and the subsequent exchanges did pertain to WikiLeaks. Perhaps, because they had reviewed Bannon’s grand jury and more recent testimony, they knew how he would respond and thought better off leaving it unchallenged.

Perhaps, too, they didn’t want to have to explain how long this exchange persisted. For example, the Stone affidavits — starting with one obtained after Bannon’s first testimony — showed this particular email exchange lasted two more days, through August 19 and 20 (the day before the Podesta “time in the barrel” tweet).

On August 19, 2016, Bannon sent Stone a text message asking if he could talk that morning. On August 20, 2016, Stone replied, “when can u talk???”

And those discussions may have continued into face-to-face meetings in September.

On September 4, 2016, Stone texted Bannon that he was in New York City for a few more days, and asked if Bannon was able to talk.

[snip]

On September 7, 2016, Stone and Bannon texted to arrange a meeting on September 8, 2016 at the Warner Center in New York.

On September 7, 2016, Bannon texted Stone asking him if he could “come by trump tower now???”

On September 8, 2016, Stone and Bannon texted about arranging a meeting in New York.

This is a lot of back-and-forth to discuss the “the tougher side of politics.”

The August exchange is one of the most substantive things presented at Stone’s trial that doesn’t appear in the Mueller Report.

It does show up, in abbreviated form, in the SSCI Report, but given what else SSCI includes, how the bipartisan report described Trump’s campaign manager eagerly responding to the rat-fucker deserves note. The SSCI Report describes how Gates and Manafort responded to Stone’s proposal — amid these promises of additional WikiLeaks releases — of a plan “to save Trump’s ass” right in the body of the report.

Stone spoke by phone with Gates that night, and then called Manafort the next morning, but appeared unable to connect. 1559 Shortly after placing that call, Stone emailed Manafort with the subject line “I have an idea” and with the message text “to save Trump’s ass.”1560 Later that morning, Manafort called Stone back, and Stone tried to reach Gates again that afternoon. 1561

Bizarrely, the SSCI Report relegates the parallel conversation with Stone involving Steve Bannon, just two weeks later, to a footnote.

1589 (U) Ibid.; Testimony of Steve Bannon, United States v. Stone, pp. 850, 857- 861. In an email on August 18, Stone wrote to Bannon: “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty.” Email, Stone to Bannon, August 18, 2016 (United States v. Stone, Gov. Ex. 28). Bannon responded, “Let’s talk ASAP.” Ibid.

This is the guy who was in charge when the Podesta emails dropped. And yet the SSCI Report buries the fact that with Bannon, too, Stone pitched a plan to win using WikiLeaks. Moreover, the SSCI Report doesn’t mention that that plan focused on social media at all, or that discussions about it may have extended over three weeks.

And yet, having buried this pitch from Stone about using social media to win in a footnote, the SSCI Report then provides six pages of detail about how central the Podesta files were to the campaign, including in their social media campaign.

Before it presents that, however, the SSCI Report provides important context to an email exchange involving Stone and Bannon included in the Mueller Report, the Stone indictment, and released at the trial, context none of the other stories provide. It shows that before Breitbart reporter Matthew Boyle emailed Stone to find out what was up with Assange on October 4, Bannon had already reached out to Breitbart’s editors to track the release.

(U) The Trump Campaign tracked Stone’s commentary and the news about WikiLeaks. On October 2, Andrew Surabian, who ran the Campaign’s war room, emailed Stone’s Twitter prediction about a Wednesday release to Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and the Trump Campaign press team. 1643 On October 3, Dan Scavino emailed the October 3 WikiLeaks Twitter announcement to Bannon.1644 That evening, Bannon reached out to two Breitbart editors, Wynton Han and Peter Schweizer, to ask if they would be awake “to get what he [Assange] has live.”I.645

(U) Separately, also on October 3, Bannon received an email from Matthew Boyle, another Breitbart editor, forwarding Boyle’s correspondence from earlier that day with Stone. In it, Boyle had asked Stone, “Assange-what’s he got? Hope it’s good.” Stone responded, “It is. I’d tell Bannon but he doesn’t call me back.” In his email to Bannon, Boyle advised Bannon to call Stone, and when Bannon said he had “important stuff to worry about,” Boyle replied, “Well clearly he knows what Assange has. I’d say that’s important.”1646

[snip]

(U) Trump was frustrated with the absence of a WikiLeaks release on October 4. Gates recalled that Trump had anticipated something would be released and later asked: “When is the other stuff coming out?”1653

(U) Following the announcement, Bannon complained to Stone by email about the lack of any new releases, asking “what was that this morning???”1654 Bannon wrote to Stone because Stone had said he “knew WikiLeaks and knew Julian Assange.”1655 Stone responded, echoing information he had received from Credico and Assange’s own announcement: “Fear. Serious security concern. He thinks they are going to kill him and the London police are standing done ” [sic]. However-a load every week going forward.” 1656

That Bannon used Breitbart as a cut-out to track what Assange was doing is important for several reasons. Bannon had had to ask the Mercers for permission before leaving Breitbart and joining the campaign, in part to avoid tying the Breitbart brand to any possible Trump loss. In August, Breitbart reporter Lee Stranahan had been in direct contact with Guccifer 2.0 and had gotten early access to a file on Black Lives Matter. Stone would use Breitbart as a platform for some of his own releases after the Podesta emails dropped. And there’s good reason to believe that whatever files Corsi prepped got shared with Breitbart itself.

Plus, in his first interview (one the SSCI Report treats, inexplicably, as credible), Bannon made a slew of claims denying enthusiasm regarding the Podesta release, claims utterly disproven by the documentary evidence. It’s possible Bannon believed he had hidden this enthusiasm from Mueller’s gaze at Breitbart.

Nevertheless, as the SSCI Report makes clear, there’s a great deal of evidence showing what a concerted focus the campaign paid to the stolen emails, how much of it focused on social media, and how the campaign couldn’t care less that this windfall had come from Russia. (The footnotes of this section of the SSCI Report are particularly valuable for the way they expose precisely who was involved in this campaign.)

(U) Despite the contemporaneous statement by the U.S. Government warning of Russian responsibility for the hacking and leaking of the DNC, DCCC, and Clinton Campaign documents and emails, the Trump Campaign considered the release of these materials to be its “October surprise.”1691 The Trump Campaign’s press team first found out about the WikiLeaks release when it “hit the press” on October 7,1692 and the Campaign quickly turned to capitalize on the Podesta emails: the following morning, October 8, the communications team began compiling information from the release that it could use to attack Clinton. 1693 WikiLeaks information was later integrated with Trump’s tweets, 1694 into his speeches, 1695 and into his press releases. 1696 Other members of the Trump family also scrutinized the news. 1697 And, the Campaign tracked WikiLeaks releases in order to populate a fake Clinton Campaign website, clintonkaine.com. 1698

[snip]

(U) Within the Campaign, there was no policy that governed using materials released by WikiLeaks.1717 To the contrary, the Campaign treated the releases as just another form of opposition research. 1718 Bannon’s view was that “anything negative that comes out [against an opponent] is clearly helpful to a campaign.”1719 According to Stephen Miller, “[i]t would have been political malpractice not to use the WikiLeaks material once it became public.” 1720 Gates described a “growing belief’ within the Campaign that Assange was, in fact, assisting their effort.”1721

(U) Rather than regulating the Campaign’s use ofWikiLeaks materials, Trump praised and promoted WikiLeaks repeatedly in the closing month of the campaign1722:

  • (U) October 10, 2016: “This just came out. WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.”
  • (U) October 12, 2016: “This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart, you’·gotta read it.”
  • (U) October 13, 2016: “It’s been amazing what’s coming out on WikiLeaks.”
  • (U) October 31, 2016: “Another one came in today. This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.”
  • (U) November 2, 2016: “WikiLeaks, it sounds like, is going to be dropping some more . . Ifwe met tomorrow. I’d tell you about it tomorrow.”
  • (U) November 4, 2016: “Getting off the plane, they were just announcing new WikiLeaks, and I wanted to stay there, but I didn’t want to keep you waiting. Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.”

(U) Using Trump to promote WikiLeaks was a deliberate strategy employed by the Campaign, not only in his remarks, but also on social media. In mid-October, Ivanka Trump tasked the Campaign’s senior officials (including Bannon, Scavino, Stephen Miller and Jason Miller) with preparing two Trump tweets every day linking to WikiLeaks content, which, she said, would help “refocus the narrative.”1723 Trump tweeted direct references to WikiLeaks throughout October and November 2016, including on October 11, 12, 16, 17, 21 (twice), 22, 24, 27 and November 1.1724

[snip]

(U) The Campaign’s preoccupation with WikiLeaks continued until the general election. As the general election approached, Scavino, a member of the communications team who also had a role in administering Trump’s Twitter account during the campaign, 1739 increasingly forwarded updates relating to WikiLeaks to other Campaign officials, using subject lines like · “WIKI ABOUT TO DROP SOME BOMBS … 4 pmE” and “The WikiLeaks BOMB!” and linking to the latest WikiLeaks twitter post or its website. 1740 To one, Donald Trump Jr. responded: “Blow it out.” 1741

1691 (U) FBI, FD-302, Gates 4/19/2018.

1692 (U) Epshteyn Tr., p. 212.

1693 (U) See, e.g., Email, Shah to Ditto, Cheung, J. Miller, and Hicks, October 8, 2016 (DJTFP00019278) (attaching document titled “Wikileaks October 7, 2016 John Podesta Email Release”); Email, Epshteyn to Ellis, October 8, 2016 (DJTFP00019302-19304) (requesting “talkers on this asap” in reference to leaked speech excerpts). In his testimony, Bannon downplayed the relative importance of the WikiLeaks release in light or the Access Hollywood tape. Bannon recalled that the Campaign learned of the tape approximately 60 minutes before it was released, in the middle of debate preparation with Trump. See Bannon Tr., p. 206. According to Bannon, the tape was an “extinction level event,” and precipitated Republican Party efforts to “remove the candidate” the following day .. Ibid., pp. 207-208. Bannon claimed that he not recall finding out about the WikiLeaks release or speaking about it with Trump until the evening after the debate. Ibid., pp. 206-207.

1694 (U) Email, J. Miller to Giuliani, Hicks, Scavino, and S. Miller, October 11, 2016 (DJTFP00019376) (linking to WikiLeaks story in the LA Times).

1695 (U) Email, Gabriel to S. Miller and Ditto, October 27, 2016 (DJTFP00020051) (providing teleprompter script for Springfield, Ohio speech referencing WikiLeaks).

1696 (U) Email, Gates to Bannon, October 27, 2016 (SKB_SSCl-0001369-1370) (stating “This is good and exactly what we need,” and forwarding written Trump statement using WikiLeaks releases to attack Clinton under the subject line, “FW: Donald J. Trump Statement.”).

1697 (U) Email, J. Miller to Shah, et al., October 9, 2016 (DJTFP00024165) (discussing Eric Trump’s question about the WikiLeaks release, “Are we discussing Hillary selling weapons to Isis [sic] as per WikiLeaks email dump?”).

1698 (U) Email, Hemming to Parscale, Bannon, and Hall, “Re: Top Twenty-Five Wikileaks Revelations,” October 15, 2016 (SKB_SSCl-0001528-1530).

[snip]

1717 (U) Bannon Tr., p. 177; S. Miller Tr., p. -110.

1718 (U) For example, Hope Hicks told the Committee: “[E]veryone has opposition research, and this just happened to be available to everyone.” Hicks Tr., pp. 66–67. Kushner described the releases as a “popular topic” that “everyone was talking about.” Kushner II Tr., pp. ’52-54.

1719 (U) Bannon Tr., p. 171-172.

1720 (U) S. Miller Tr., p. 91.

1721 (U) FBI, FD-302, Gates 3/1/2018.

1722 (U) Some of these are reproduced in a video by The Washington Post. “Watch Trump Praise WikiLeaks,” The Washington Post, April 11, 2019. Public tabulations of the number of references in speeches, interviews, rallies, and debates Vary, but place it in excess of 100 mentions. See, e.g., Gabrielle Healy, “Did Trump really mention WikiLeaks over 160 times in the last month of the election cycle?” PolitiFact, April 21, 2017; David Choi and John Haltiwanger, “5 times Trump praised WikiLeaks during his 2016 election campaign,” Business Insider, April 11, 2019.

[snip]

1739 (U) Epshteyn.Tr,, p. 135.

1740 (U) Email, Scavino to Bannon; E. Trump, Trump Jr., Kushner, S. Miller, and Hicks, October 31, 2016 (TRUMPORG_69_016159); Email, Scavino to Bannon, Hicks, Kushner, S. Miller, Trump Jr., and E. Trump, (TRUMPORG_69_016934). See also Email, Scavino to Bannon, Hicks, Conway, and S. Miller, November 4, 2016 (TRUMPORG_69_017232) (“Tweet by WikiLeaks on Twitter”); Email, Scavino to Scavino, November 6, 2016 (TRUMPORG_69 _017455) (“8,263 DNC EMAILS RELEASED” and linking to WikiLeaks tweet); Email, Scavino to Bannon, S. Miller, Kushner, E. Trump, Trump Jr., November 7, 2016 (TRUMPORG_ 69 _ 017463) (subject “Wiki – CIIlCAGO PROTESTS COSTS” and linking to WikiLeaks documents).

1741 (U) Email, Trump Jr. to Scavino, Bannon, E. Trump, Kushner, S. Miller, and Hicks, October 31, 2016 (TRUMPORG _ 69_016164).

In light of Bannon’s meetings with Stone, his trial testimony, and the details of how the campaign exploited the stolen emails, the most obvious explanation for Stone’s “how to win this but it ain’t pretty” comment is that this response to the Podesta drop was prepared starting in August (which makes the timing of Stone’s “time in the barrel” comment, coming in the wake of the Stone and Bannon discussions, all the more intriguing).

Particularly given the timing of Stone’s meeting or meetings with Bannon in NY, that’s not the only possibility. The other ones are far more damning.

But the trial and affidavits both tell stories that suggest there’s far more to Stone’s proposals, to two consecutive Trump campaign managers, on how to win the campaign. The SSCI Report provides one answer, the most obvious answer, for what that plan was. And yet the SSCI Report, which frowns at the campaign for its embrace of emails stolen by Russia but consistently backs off the most damning conclusions regarding Trump, fails to connect whether there’s a tie between Stone’s promise, which it hides in a footnote, and the massive effort to capitalize on the emails.

Or worse.


The movie Rashomon demonstrated that any given narrative tells just one version of events, but that by listening to all available narratives, you might identify gaps and biases that get you closer to the truth.

I’m hoping that principle works even for squalid stories like the investigation into Roger Stone’s cheating in the 2016 election. This series will examine the differences between four stories about Roger Stone’s actions in 2016:

As I noted in the introductory post (which lays out how I generally understand the story each tells), each story has real gaps in one or more of these areas:

My hope is that by identifying these gaps and unpacking what they might say about the choices made in crafting each of these stories, we can get a better understanding of what actually happened — both in 2016 and in the investigations. The gaps will serve as a framework for this series.

Steve Bannon, Guccifer 2.0, Glenn Greenwald, and Me: How Glenn Greenwald Defends “Smear Artist & Cowards”

Glenn Greenwald has appointed himself the guardian of suspected Russian disinformation on social media, spending much of the last several days wailing that Twitter and Facebook took measures to prevent a sketchy NY Post story from going viral on their platforms, and calling it censorship.

Glenn misrepresents why Maggie got attacked

Glenn’s story wailing about those measures is riddled with contradiction. For example, a man who spends most of his time making exaggerated or unsubstantiated attacks on journalists on Twitter, spent two paragraphs complaining about the treatment of Maggie Haberman after she retweeted the article — from her former employer — with no caveats.

BUT THE POST, for all its longevity, power and influence, ran smack into two entities far more powerful than it: Facebook and Twitter. Almost immediately upon publication, pro-Biden journalists created a climate of extreme hostility and suppression toward the Post story, making clear that any journalist even mentioning it would be roundly attacked. For the crime of simply noting the story on Twitter (while pointing out its flaws), New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman was instantly vilified to the point where her name, along with the phrase “MAGA Haberman,” were trending on Twitter.

(That Haberman is a crypto-Trump supporter is preposterous for so many reasons, including the fact that she is responsible for countless front-page Times stories that reflect negatively on the president; moreover, the 2016 Clinton campaign considered Haberman one of their most favorable reporters).

Glenn suggests a viral, organic response to Maggie’s RT — coming largely from regular users, not other journalists — was instead led by journalists. Glenn defends Maggie against being a “crypto-Trump supporter” in the same breath where he claims each and every person complaining about her initial uncritical response is a “pro-Biden journalist[].” And one of the most famously abrasive people on Twitter accused others of creating “a climate of extreme hostility” on the platform.

But the real problem is how he misrepresents Maggie’s role and the reason for the response. This was about virality.

In fact, at first, Maggie did not point out the flaws in the story. Importantly (because Matt Taibbi is claiming that the Steele dossier was reported on before the 2016 election without noting that the most important instance of this involved someone reporting on the investigative response to the dossier, not the dossier itself, and Glenn is similarly misrepresenting where and on what terms outlets reported on the dossier), Maggie gave the story credibility by quoting a line from the piece in such a way that it suggested the FBI might be investigating Hunter Biden because of the discoveries on the dodgy laptop rather than (as NBC has reported) investigating whether Hunter Biden was victimized by Russian spies.

Only after Maggie and Jake Sherman (who treated the Post story similarly) got criticized, did they begin to point to the obvious problems with the story.

Sherman even expressed regret for the way he had responded uncritically at first, tweets which Maggie RTed (though she offered no such mea culpa of her own).

The complaint was that two serious journalists were giving a shoddy story credibility before they had read it closely enough to see all the problems with it, which not only served to launch the story out of the frothy right (which Steve Bannon has said was entirely the point of packaging the story in this way), but with their significant follower counts, played a key role in making the story go viral.

In other words, while Glenn complains about the viral hostility in response to Maggie’s tweet, he doesn’t consider how her own tweet played a central role in making the story go viral.

Glenn presents a two social media platform effort to cut down on viral disinformation as a Democratic plot

Glenn then presents the social media decision to prevent the Post story from going viral on their platforms both as a response to the uproar over the initial viral response to it and as a Democratic plot.

The two Silicon Valley giants saw that hostile climate and reacted. Just two hours after the story was online, Facebook intervened. The company dispatched a life-long Democratic Party operative who now works for Facebook — Andy Stone, previously a communications operative for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among other D.C. Democratic jobs — to announce that Facebook was “reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform”: in other words, tinkering with its own algorithms to suppress the ability of users to discuss or share the news article. The long-time Democratic Party official did not try to hide his contempt for the article, beginning his censorship announcement by snidely noting: “I will intentionally not link to the New York Post.”

Twitter’s suppression efforts went far beyond Facebook’s. They banned entirely all users’ ability to share the Post article — not just on their public timeline but even using the platform’s private Direct Messaging feature.

Early in the day, users who attempted to link to the New York Post story either publicly or privately received a cryptic message rejecting the attempt as an “error.” Later in the afternoon, Twitter changed the message, advising users that they could not post that link because the company judged its contents to be “potentially harmful.”

He even accuses these social media platforms of working together to do this (an accusation that has legal implications), even while describing responses and explanations for those responses that are not actually the same, undermining his claim.

In sum, the two Silicon Valley giants, with little explanation, united to prevent the sharing and dissemination of this article.

Glenn is, as is his wont, being very selective about how he pitches these Silicon Valley companies. He chooses not to describe how Facebook board member Peter Thiel has, like Glenn, been chumming around with right wing racists. He chooses not to explain how Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s Global Public Policy head, had a far more senior job in the W Administration than Andy Stone has ever held. And in his tweets in aftermath of this post, which focus closely on the impact of Facebook’s monopoly position, Glenn makes no mention of a blockbuster WSJ story describing how Facebook tweaked its algorithms to disfavor Mother Jones and also describing private dinners that Mark Zuckerberg has had with Ben Shapiro (the story came out after Glenn originally posted his post though Glenn has updated the post after it was initially published). He also conflates one report saying tech workers lean — centrist — Democratic with the suggestion the entire industries do.

Glenn treats this response — the suppression of links to the article but not discussions of the content — as censorship, going on to conflate the suppression of virality with outright censorship.

Private-sector repression of speech and thought, particularly in the internet era, can be as dangerous and consequential. Imagine, for instance, if these two Silicon Valley giants united with Google to declare: henceforth we will ban all content that is critical of President Trump and/or the Republican Party, but will actively promote criticisms of Joe Biden and the Democrats. 

You need go no further than to Glenn’s endless rants about this to prove that the outlets are not censoring content. They simply attempted to avoid being willful tools in the viral dissemination of propaganda, not the information itself.

Glenn’s selective concerns about monopoly

Glenn goes on to say some funny things about monopoly. He quotes from an article citing an HJC report on Facebook’s monopoly status, but (while he links the report), not the report itself.

In June, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law launched an investigation into the consolidated power of Facebook and three other companies — Google, Amazon and Apple — and just last week issued a sweeping report which, as Ars Technica explained, found:

Facebook outright “has monopoly power in the market for social networking,” and that power is “firmly entrenched and unlikely to be eroded by competitive pressure” from anyone at all due to “high entry barriers—including strong network effects, high switching costs, and Facebook’s significant data advantage—that discourage direct competition by other firms to offer new products and services.”

The report doesn’t address Twitter (because Twitter is not a monopoly). So instead, Glenn cites how many journalists use Twitter.

While Twitter still falls short of Facebook in terms of number of users, a 2019 report found that “Twitter remains the leading social network among journalists at 83%.” Censoring a story from Twitter thus has disproportionate impact by hiding it from the people who determine and shape the news.

This suggests that Glenn is concerned about the same thing Bannon is, ensuring that this story breaks out of the right wing echo chamber to be magnified by people like Maggie Haberman.

Glenn then makes some batshit crazy comments about Section 230, suggesting that only behemoths like Facebook benefit from it, and equating Section 230 with a specific exemption on antitrust law.

Beyond that, both Facebook and Twitter receive substantial, unique legal benefits from federal law, further negating the claim that they are free to do whatever they want as private companies. Just as is true of Major League Baseball — which is subject to regulation by Congress as a result of the antitrust exemption they enjoy under the law — these social media companies receive a very valuable and particularized legal benefit in the form of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields them from any liability for content published on their platforms, including defamatory material or other legally proscribed communications.

As Glenn surely knows, The Intercept, a mid-sized journalistic outlet, is protected by Section 230. Even teeny tiny emptywheel is protected by Section 230. To suggest that Facebook and Twitter uniquely benefit from it is simply ridiculous. We here at emptywheel monitor our comment threads fairly aggressively, but because of Section 230, we won’t go to prison if one of you decides to use the comment threads as part of your Russian intelligence operation.

Glenn endorses social media taking actions for the public interest but not the ones HJC suggested social media needs to take

From there, Glenn takes what — for a claimed First Amendment absolutist like he used to be — is fairly stunning. He suggests that the monopoly status of Facebook (and everyone else who benefits from Section 230, he suggests by context, but he cannot possibly mean that) means they owe a “dut[y] to the public interest.”

No company can claim such massive, unique legal exemptions from the federal law and then simultaneously claim they owe no duties to the public interest and are not answerable to anyone.

That is, in a piece that bitches mightily that Facebook and Twitter took steps to prevent a shoddy story that may have been seeded by documents stolen by Russia from going viral on their platforms, Glenn argues strongly that Facebook and Twitter should take steps to serve the public interest.

Let’s take this moment to go back to that report that Glenn links but does not cite. Glenn goes on at length about the dangers of concentration in social media, some complaints of which are valid and some of which are misstated. But here’s what the report from which he has been providing a second-hand quotation says about one major danger of concentration in social media: it helps spread dis- and misinformation and breaks down accountability in reporting.

Finally, because news is often accessed online through channels other than the original publication—including search results, voice assistants, social platforms, or news aggregators— journalism has increasingly become “atomized” or removed from its source and placed alongside other content.315 In the context of audio news, one market participant noted that aggregating different news sources can create a bad experience for users.316 The aggregation of different news sources without editorial oversight can also cause reputational harm to news publishers, such as when highly credible reporting appears alongside an opinion-based news source.317

Indirectly, the atomization of news may increase the likelihood that people are exposed to disinformation or untrustworthy sources of news online. When online news is disintermediated from its source, people generally have more difficulty discerning the credibility of reporting online. This process may also “foster ambivalence about the quality and nature of content that garners users’ attention,” particularly among young people.318

For example, during the Subcommittee’s sixth hearing, Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline presented Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with evidence of a Breitbart video that claimed that “you don’t need a mask and hydroxychloroquine is a cure for COVID.” 319 As he noted, within the first five hours of this video being posted, it had nearly “20 million views and over 100,000 comments before Facebook acted to remove it.” 320 Mr. Zuckerberg responded that “a lot of people shared that, and we did take it down because it violate[d] our policies.” 321 In response, Chairman Cicilline asked if “20 million people saw it over the period of five hours . . . doesn’t that suggest, Mr. Zuckerberg, that your platform is so big that, even with the right policies in place, you can’t contain deadly content?” 322 Mr. Zuckerberg responded by claiming that Facebook has a “relatively good track record of finding and taking down lots of false content.” 323

Moreover, because there is not meaningful competition, dominant firms face little financial consequence when misinformation and propaganda are promoted online.324 Platforms that are dependent on online advertising have an incentive to prioritize content that is addictive or exploitative to increase engagement on the platform.325 And the reliance on platforms by advertisers has generally diminished their ability to push for improvements in content standards. As a news publisher explained in a submission to the Subcommittee:

As advertisers have become more reliant on dominant search and social platforms to reach potential consumers, they have lost any leverage to demand change in the policies or practices of the platforms. In the era of newspapers, television, radio, or indeed direct sales of digital advertising online, there was a connection between advertising and the content it funds, creating a high degree of accountability for both parties in that transaction. This maintained high content standards, and enabled advertisers to demand or pursue change from publishers whose content standards fell. While many high-quality publishers continue to operate stringent policies in relation to the digital advertising that they permit to appear within their services, in a world of programmatic audience trading that self-regulated compact between advertisers and platform does not exist.326

During the Subcommittee’s sixth hearing, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) raised this concern. As he noted, in July 2020, Facebook faced an advertiser boycott by hundreds of companies.327 This effort, which has been spearheaded by the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, a coalition of civil rights groups organizing in protest of “the rapid spread of hate messages online, the presence of boogaloo and other right-wing extremist groups trying to infiltrate and disrupt Black Lives Matter protests and the fact that alt-right racists and anti-Semitic content flourishes on Facebook.” 328

As a result of this campaign, more than a thousand major companies—including Disney, CocaCola, and General Motors—announced that they would pull $7 billion in advertisements on Facebook as part of the Stop Hate for Profit boycott.329 But as Representative Raskin pointed out during the hearing Facebook does not “seem to be that moved by their campaign.” 330

That is, the report that Glenn refers to approvingly but does not cite actually connects concentration in social media to the way platforms are more likely to spread disinformation, propaganda, and exploitative content. The report describes the specific consequences that can arise — people ignore best practice during a pandemic — when social media companies act too slowly to prevent disinformation from achieving virality on their platforms.

Effectively, then, the report that Glenn cites favorably says that the public interest is served when social media platforms prevent disinformation from going viral on their platforms.

Glenn endorses requiring that monopolistic social media platforms answer to the public interest, invokes a report laying out what that public interest would be, and then wails because two platforms have done precisely what his argument suggests they should do, limit how their platforms are used to spread disinformation, propaganda, and exploitative content.

Glenn utterly confuses content, source material, propagandistic packaging of that source material, and discussion of that propagandistic packaging

In the later part of his screed, Glenn makes some important points about the inconsistency of Twitter’s evolving explanation for why it is limiting the virality of the Post pieces. He’s absolutely right that there should be some transparency and thought put into these policies, and an attempt to apply them consistently both between partisan sides but also globally, where social media more often caters to the whims of local governments to crack down on dissidents.

But amid those very good points, Glenn ties himself in knots, confusing precisely what it is he’s talking about.

Remember, the problem Glenn is complaining about is that after the Post posted some stories that he admits make “overblown” claims, published scandalous photos for which there’s “no conceivable public interest in publishing,” and offered an “explanation of how these documents were obtained [that] is bizarre at best,” Facebook and Twitter chose not to let those stories go viral on their platforms.

Glenn focuses in his post on the NYPost’s storied history.

Founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, only three U.S. newspapers are more widely circulated.

But he doesn’t discuss that the woman writing these stories appears to have been installed at the Post from Hannity solely to publish them at the Post (this kind of shell game within the Murdoch empire also facilitated the Seth Rich hoax, per discovery in the Rich family lawsuits).

Post deputy political editor Emma-Jo Morris’ reports on Biden this past week constitute the sum total of her professional bylines. (That is, other than some posts Morris wrote in the summer of 2015 as a college intern for the conservative Washington Free Beacon.)

Prior to joining the Post in early spring, Morris’ most prominent media job involved her three years and eight months as a producer for Hannity, the Fox News star who is one of the president’s closest advisers. Morris did not reply to requests for comment sent to her social media accounts.

That is, while Glenn nods to the problems with the Post story, he doesn’t even examine how the reporter came to show up there, only to have Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon (the latter of whom Glenn doesn’t mention) drop these stories into her lap, details which go to her reliability. He ignores those details in a column that complains that social media platforms are throttling the virality of the Post story — but not the underlying allegations.

To illustrate how this undermines Glenn’s claims of censorship, recognize that there are four levels of the story here:

  • The claims about Burisma (which have been debunked by expert witnesses testifying under oath); discussions of these claims have not been throttled at all
  • Emails that the Post allegedly learned about from Bannon and received from Rudy, who in turn claims to have received them (using his attorney as a cut-out) from a repair store, but which neither the Post nor Rudy nor Bannon will share with others; if these emails were made publicly available, Twitter might throttle access to them under its prior “hacking” rule, but not necessarily its revised one
  • Several stories by a Hannity producer installed at the Post just before she wrote these stories; two social media companies have taken measures to limit the viral sharing of the stories, largely by limiting how readily users can access the stories directly via links posted on the social media sites
  • Discussion of the story and its production, of which this post, Glenn’s column, and his social media rants are part; that Glenn can rant at length on Twitter is proof that the social media companies are not “censoring” the discussion about them

The only thing at issue here are the Post stories. Not the underlying allegations; not (yet) the emails, if Bannon and Rudy ever decided to share them; not discussions about the Post stories.

In the section of his column discussing the actions by Facebook and Twitter, Glenn correctly limits his discussion to the article itself (without always noting that the issue was links to the article, not discussion of it).

But in his discussion claiming censorship more generally, Glenn conflates [links to] the story with the content of the story itself.

Then there is the practical impact of Twitter and Facebook uniting to block content published by a major newspaper. It is true in theory that one can still read the suppressed article by visiting the New York Post website directly, but the stranglehold that these companies exert over our discourse is so dominant that their censorship amounts to effective suppression of the reporting.

[snip]

THE GRAVE DANGERS posed by the censorship actions of yesterday should be self-evident. Just over two weeks before a presidential election, Silicon Valley giants — whose industry leaders and workforce overwhelmingly favor the Democratic candidate — took extraordinary steps to block millions, perhaps tens of millions, of American voters from being exposed to what purports to be a major exposé by one of the country’s oldest and largest newspapers.

[snip]

Do we really want Facebook serving as some sort of uber-editor for U.S. media and journalism, deciding what information is suitable for the American public to read and which should be hidden from it after teams of journalists and editors at real media outlets have approved its publication? [my emphasis]

Preventing a story from being spread virally from a platform, without preventing it from being discussed, in no way prevents “tens of millions … of American voters from being exposed to what purports to be a major exposé,” (though, in fact, the stories mostly recycle the same old allegations that experts have debunked under oath). It simply requires those engaging in the discussion — including via Glenn’s rants on Twitter or via stories about the Post stories, including Glenn’s column, which Twitter has not throttled — to go find that story itself.

Glenn’s theory that authentic emails justify serving as a mouthpiece for Russian intelligence

I’m most interested in how Glenn sprinkles a theory in this column that he has espoused in the past to defend his regurgitation of emails stolen by the GRU in 2016. He suggests that — so long as emails or other source documents are authentic — it doesn’t matter if they’ve been packaged up by a hostile intelligence agency (or a Murdoch propagandist installed expressly for the purpose). In this case, he suggests that until the Bidens prove the emails are not authentic, then the story which Glenn acknowledges overhypes what is claimed to be in the emails might “corroborate” a story largely debunked by experts testifying under oath.

While the Biden campaign denies that any such meetings or favors ever occurred, neither the campaign nor Hunter, at least as of now, has denied the authenticity of the emails.

[snip]

While these emails, if authenticated, provide some new details and corroboration, the broad outlines of this story have long been known: Hunter was paid a very large monthly sum by Burisma at the same time that his father was quite active in using the force of the U.S. Government to influence Ukraine’s internal affairs.

[snip]

The Post’s explanation of how these documents were obtained is bizarre at best: They claim that Hunter Biden indefinitely left his laptop containing the emails at a repair store, and the store’s owner, alarmed by the corruption they revealed, gave the materials from the hard drive to the FBI and then to Rudy Giuliani.

While there is no proof that Biden followed through on any of Hunter’s promises to Burisma, there is no reason, at least thus far, to doubt that the emails are genuine. And if they are genuine, they at least add to what is undeniably a relevant and newsworthy story involving influence-peddling relating to Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine and his trading on the name and power of his father, now the front-runner in the 2020 presidential election. [my emphasis]

As I noted on Twitter, if Glenn consulted with The Intercept’s security expert, Micah Lee, Micah could explain that — at least given the publicly available metadata — there very much is reason to doubt the emails as presented are actual emails.

But even disclaiming knowledge of the technical problems with the provenance of the emails, Glenn nevertheless admits that the Post’s explanation for how these emails dropped in its lap is “bizarre at best.” Having admitted that, though, he puts the onus on the Bidens to deny the authenticity of these emails, not the journalists reporting on them. It’s not enough for Joe Biden to provide solid evidence (his calendar) explaining why the allegation construed from these emails is not true, the Bidens must disprove the authenticity of the emails (which would entail treating this story as credible, and giving it air).

Crazier still, Glenn takes no responsibility himself to assess whether the emails actually prove what the Post claims they do, a distinction between the authenticity of emails versus the accuracy of the interpretation derived from the emails. He states, as fact, that if the emails prove authentic it will “provide some new details and corroboration” and “add to” the existing allegations about Burisma. Except that’s not true! They’ll only add corroboration if the content of the emails is read correctly and if that correct reading logically ties the evidence (a claim about a meeting that was offered but not scheduled) to allegations that are newsworthy, much less misconduct. What the Post has floated falls far short of that, yet because it included pictures Glenn doesn’t find newsworthy and a claim to have actual emails, Glenn doesn’t scrutinize whether the reading of the emails demonstrates both an accurate interpretation and news value.

In other words, Glenn has totally abdicated assessing for himself whether the emails dangled say what a biased presenter claims they say, and even if they do, whether that really backs the allegations that have been debunked by experts testifying under oath. Thus far, they don’t.

Glenn’s defense of the Post story replays his defense of his own publication of emails stolen by GRU

As I said, this is a theory of journalism Glenn has espoused before, when defending his willingness to publish emails stolen by the GRU. He uses that theory, for example, when asked to defend this October 9, 2016 article, presenting as “news” that the Hillary campaign:

  • Pitched Maggie Haberman on a story she subsequently gave “somewhat more critical than what the Clinton memo envisioned” coverage of
  • Specified what should be treated as on the record and off when speaking with journalists
  • Had a list of surrogates, some of whom were paid by the campaign, who would appear on cable news
  • Hosted off the record gatherings with journalists

As the story concedes, none of that was really newsworthy. Glenn justified posting documents from sources that had just been described as Russian cut-outs by saying the documents “provide a valuable glimpse” into how all campaigns work the press.

All presidential campaigns have their favorite reporters, try to plant stories they want published, and attempt in multiple ways to curry favor with journalists. These tactics are certainly not unique to the Clinton campaign (liberals were furious in 2008 when journalists went to John McCain’s Arizona ranch for an off-the-record BBQ). But these rituals and dynamics between political campaigns and the journalists who cover them are typically carried out in the dark, despite how significant they can be. These documents provide a valuable glimpse into that process.

Glenn has not, as far as I’m aware, reported on a far more interesting role Maggie played in 2016, where Rick Gates leaked information to her as a way to get it into Roger Stone’s hands. Perhaps he didn’t report on that because the documents were legally released as part of a trial, or perhaps because finding them would take actual work, rather than repackaging what an interested party fed him in much the same way that Hillary fed the press.

Glenn vetted that story the same way he seems to think the Post story should be vetted: by asking the victim if the documents are accurate and, absent a denial that they are accurate, publishing them as “news.”

Given more than 24 hours to challenge the authenticity of these documents and respond, [Nick] Merrill did not reply to our emails.

Here’s how, in a column published on October 9, Glenn justified publishing stolen documents that — he ultimately admitted — weren’t really newsworthy but for which he had been given an exclusive.

The emails were provided to The Intercept by the source identifying himself as Guccifer 2.0, who was reportedly responsible for prior significant hacks, including one that targeted the Democratic National Committee and resulted in the resignations of its top four officials. On Friday, Obama administration officials claimed that Russia’s “senior-most officials” were responsible for that hack and others, although they provided no evidence for that assertion.

As these internal documents demonstrate, a central component of the Clinton campaign strategy is ensuring that journalists they believe are favorable to Clinton are tasked to report the stories the campaign wants circulated.

Even here, Glenn muddles things. Guccifer 2.0 was a persona. While it claimed responsibility for the hacks, virtually all experts by this point in October 2016 had presented public evidence for why they believed GRU (which Glenn does not mention in the piece) was responsible for the hack. This is the move that Glenn has — for years! — defended by saying, about his decisions to publish stolen emails, that it is “fundamental” that journalists must “report on newsworthy information legitimately in the public interest,” even if the source is bad or had bad motives (or, Glenn doesn’t say this but implies it, is a hostile intelligence agency trying to tamper in an election).

Other than “harm to innocents,” there is no excuse or justification for journalists to refuse to report on newsworthy information legitimately in the public interest – including claims that the source of that information is bad or had bad motives. This principle is fundamental.

Note what Glenn doesn’t consider here: whether the source is bad and has been proven to be a liar.

It turns out that Glenn and I had a bit of an exchange with Guccifer 2.0 just days before he decided to post documents that weren’t newsworthy because he was given an exclusive.

On October 4, 2016 — just after WikiLeaks had promised to release files that everyone believed would be Clinton Foundation documents, Guccifer 2.0 posted some party documents claiming they were Clinton Foundation documents.

I tweeted, without linking the site or Guccifer 2.0’s tweet announcing the release, noting that the documents probably weren’t Clinton Foundation documents. Within twenty minutes, Glenn asked why I said that, and I noted, two minutes later, that the documents might be authentic, but they were not what Guccifer 2.0 said they were.

According to Glenn’s long-term standard — publishing documents believed to be authentic, so long as some thin public interest can be described — I guess he would support publishing them. According to journalistic standards, however, publishing something from someone who had recently been caught lying ought to raise real questions about reliability.

Forty minutes after my original tweet and about twenty after my exchange with Glenn, the persona RTed my tweet, explaining away my objections.

Shortly after RTing me, the Twitter persona followed me.

This makes Glenn’s decision to post those documents on October 9, 2016 all the more inexcusable. Less than a week before Glenn posted the least justifiable story of many of his unjustifiable 2016 uses of stolen documents, someone he (then) trusted had pointed out that the persona was a liar. But he posted the unnewsworthy documents, on the schedule that served the persona, anyway.

Those who make “slimy insinuations” based off authentic documents are “smear-artists & cowards”

Of course, this rush to publish documents simply because you have documents, even if they provide no new evidence to “corroborate” stories already debunked by experts testifying under oath, can end up tainting by insinuation. That’s the entire point, and that’s what happened with this Post story.

Don’t take my word for it. Take Glenn Greenwald’s.

Last year, when DOJ released the first bunch of 302s under the BuzzFeed FOIA for the Mueller Report backup, numerous people (I’m sure I was one of them), pointed out this reference in a February 2018 Mueller interview with Steve Bannon. In the context of a series of questions about his knowledge of Trump Organization’s ties to Russia, he was asked about what appears to be the fall 2017 story (which we now know was a limited hangout) of Michael Cohen’s efforts to pursue a Trump Tower Moscow with Felix Sater.

Bannon described how he claimed to assess the validity of the story: he reached out to “his contacts at the Intercept, Fox, the Guardian and ABC News,” who all had no further information, which did not surprise him. And, I guess at that point, he dropped the issue.

Understand, Bannon (the guy behind the Post story) is a liar, and this interview in particular was full of false story after false story. Bannon probably was lying in all his interviews about his knowledge of Trump’s business ties to Russia (including elsewhere in this same interview). It may be that when Cohen released a carefully crafted cover story, Bannon really did call up some news outlets rather than people who would actually know. It may be that Bannon invented the story about calling news outlets altogether.

It’s just weird, though, that Bannon named the Intercept before Fox, and frankly weird that Bannon would claim to call an outlet with zero expertise on this issue to find out if they had heard anything.

Whatever the explanation — whether it was the inexplicable truth, Bannon lied about calling these outlets, or Bannon lied about his knowledge of the Trump Tower deal — that he made the claim is curious.

When it was posted with absolutely no claims about what it meant, Glenn went ballistic, accusing people who screen capped a curious reference to be “using slimy insinuations about who it [sic] is without having the courage to say it explicitly.”

Using Glenn’s method, of course, one could have asked him if the 302 of an official investigation officially released by DOJ was authentic, and that would be enough — according to Glenn — to merit not just publishing it in a story, but doing so while making other insinuations not backed by the evidence.

When something far less intrusive, based off documents legally FOIAed, happened to Glenn, he accused those of posting screen caps from official 302s of being smear merchants.

But when Steve Bannon is behind it and even the claimed provenance of the documents is absurd and the more likely provenance is quite suspect, Glenn demands that such insinuations must be allowed to go viral on Facebook and Twitter — anything less is censorship.

Docket Tea Leaves: Manafort, Bannon, and Flynn

I’d like to point to some curious docket doings in cases pertaining to Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, and Mike Flynn

Manafort

First, two things pertaining to Paul Manafort, who is serving his prison sentence from home. In his book, Andrew Weissmann raises the “other investigation” in which Manafort, on the day he succeeded in getting a plea deal, implicated someone — almost certainly Jared Kushner — and wondered why the material still hadn’t been released.

Most notably, at one point we asked him about an email he’d received in August 2016 from Roger Stone. Manafort gave a long explanation, the gist of which was to implicate two senior Trump campaign officials; it was related to an investigation in New York. (As the precise material is still under seal I cannot discuss the details, although it is unclear to me what the continued basis is for keeping all this material under seal.) We were trying to assess his credibility, fixating on signs of dishonesty—any indication that Manafort was still angling for a pardon, or attempting to play us. Volunteering this information, which implicated senior officials, suggested he may have written that possibility off, even though we all had continuing doubts.

It’s a damn good question given that Manafort’s defense and prosecutors filed a sealed joint motion about what else could be unsealed from Manafort’s breach determination. At the time, the government was proposing to unseal at least some of the information — and had even given proposals to Manafort’s lawyers to unseal them.

On May 29, 2020, the government provided counsel for Mr. Manafort with the last of the government’s proposals for lesser-redacted materials. Counsel for Mr. Manafort is now considering the government’s proposals, and the parties respectfully request additional time for counsel for Mr. Manafort to do so, and for the parties to confer and prepare the joint report for the Court.

But Judge Amy Berman Jackson hasn’t ruled yet. She’s busy as hell, but some of this information would be fairly important for voters to consider before they vote.

Meanwhile, in Manafort’s case in chief, on Tuesday, one of the two DC AUSAs who were on the docket swapped out for a different one.

The United States of America, by and through its attorney, the Acting United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, and Assistant United States Attorney Arvind Lal, hereby informs the Court that he is entering his appearance in this matter on behalf of the United States. Assistant United States Attorney Zia M. Faruqui no longer represents the United States in this matter.

Manafort’s serving his prison sentence from home. And the AUSA on the unsealing docket, Molly Gaston, remains on this one (so it shouldn’t pertain to the unsealing debate). There doesn’t seem to be a need to add new AUSAs when all he’s going to do is continue to sit in his condo until Trump pardons him.

Bannon

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a sealed document was placed in Steve Bannon’s docket.

This could be a lot of things, and Bannon has three co-defendants, so it’s not even clear that it pertains to him. But it’s the first sealed document (as a simple fraud case, this shouldn’t involve any classified evidence). And it was filed the same day as the Hunter Biden faux-scandal broke.

NBC reported that the FBI is investigating whether this faux-scandal has ties to foreign intelligence.

Federal investigators are examining whether emails allegedly describing activities by Joe Biden and his son Hunter and found on a laptop at a Delaware repair shop are linked to a foreign intelligence operation, two people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The FBI seized the laptop and a hard drive through a grand jury subpoena. The subpoena was later published by the New York Post. The bureau has declined to comment.

Though there are other sketchy aspects to the story, such as the claim that the shop owner, having been subpoenaed for the laptop, also made a copy and gave it to Rudy’s lawyer, Robert Costello.

“Before turning over the gear, the shop owner says, he made a copy of the hard drive and later gave it to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello,” the Post said. “Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Trump, told The Post about the existence of the hard drive in late September and Giuliani provided The Post with a copy of it on Sunday.”

Bannon’s Chinese benefactor, Guo Wengui, was hyping the dirt before it was released.

Weeks before the New York Post began publishing what it claimed were the contents of Hunter Biden’s hard drive, a Sept. 25 segment on a YouTube channel run by a Chinese dissident streamer, who is linked to billionaire and Steve Bannon-backer Guo Wengui, broadcast a bizarre conspiracy theory. According to the streamer, Chinese politburo officials had “sent three hard disks of evidence” to the Justice Department and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi containing damaging information about Joe Biden as well as the origins of the coronavirus in a bid to undermine the rule of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Three days later, a Twitter account linked to Guo and Bannon’s Himalaya movement subsequently amplified an edited clip of the segment alongside the pledge of a “Bombshell… 3 hard disk drives of videos and dossiers of Hunter Biden’s connections with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have been sent to Nancy Pelosi and DOJ. Big money and sex scandal!”

And Bannon was boasting of having the laptop on September 28.

If the FBI was already investigating this — including why the shop owner was handing out copies of the purported laptop — then the FBI may have been aware of Bannon’s activities before Wednesday.

The point is, some of this — particularly if it delves into fraud — would be a bail violation. There’s a status conference on October 26, so it’s possible we’ll get hints then.

Ultimately, I think Bannon is virtually guaranteed to be pardoned, because he still hasn’t told the full truth about 2016. So even if he were jailed, it’d likely be for a matter of days until Trump got him out again.

Flynn

Finally, there’s Flynn’s case. The one unopposed amicus — filed by the NACDL — got docketed today. It’s a strong case — far stronger than a similar argument that Sidney Powell tried to make — that Flynn should not be held in contempt for the lies he has told in Judge Emmet Sullivan’s case. It’s an argument that Sullivan would, I imagine, normally find persuasive, and the fact that he has docketed it today makes me wonder if he’s relying on it in his order on Flynn’s case.

The only problem with the brief is it misunderstands the full scope of Flynn’s lies to the court. The brief assumes all his lies pertain to his guilty pleas, and argue that defendants can’t be held accountable for perjury on coerced guilty pleas.

But — as I’ve noted repeatedly — the sworn declaration Flynn submitted as part of his attempt to withdraw his guilty plea, which DOJ’s recent excuses for blowing up his prosecution increasingly rely on, also conflicts with what Flynn said to the grand jury as well as evidence submitted in this docket, which shows notes from Covington recording Flynn telling lies about his engagement with Turkey (see the bold for a conflicting statement).

  • June 26, 2018: Mike Flynn testified to an EDVA grand jury, among other things, that:
    • “From the beginning,” his 2016 consulting project “was always on behalf of elements within the Turkish government,”
    • He and Bijan Kian would “always talk about Gulen as sort of a sharp point” in relations between Turkey and the US as part of the project (though there was some discussion about business climate)
    • “For the most part” “all of that work product [was] about Gulen”
    • When asked if he knew of any work product that didn’t relate to Gulen, Flynn answered, “I don’t think there was anything that we had done that had anything to do with, you know, anything else like business climates or stuff like that”
    • He was not aware of “any work done on researching the state of the business climate in Turkey”
    • He was not aware of “any meetings held with U.S. businesses or business associations”
    • He was not aware of “any work done regarding business opportunities and investment in Turkey”
    • He and his partner “didn’t have any conversations about” a November 8, 2016 op-ed published under his name until “Bijan [] sent me a draft of it a couple of days prior, maybe about a week prior”
  • January 29, 2020: Mike Flynn submitted a sworn declaration. Among the assertions he made were:
    • “On December 1, 2017 (reiterated on December 18, 2018), I pled guilty to lying to agents of the FBI. I am innocent of this crime.”
    • “I gave [Covington] the information they requested and answered their questions truthfully.”
    • “I still don’t remember if I discussed sanctions on a phone call with Ambassador Kislyak nor do I remember if we discussed the details of a UN vote on Israel.”
    • “My relationship with Covington disintegrated soon thereafter.” [After second proffer session.]
    • “I did not believe I had lied in my White House interview with the FBI agents.”
    • “In the preceding months leading up to this moment [when he agreed to the plea deal], I had read articles and heard rumors that the agents did not believe that I had lied.”
    • “It was well after I pled guilty on December 1, 2017, that I heard or read that the agents had stated that they did not believe that I had lied during the January 24, 2017, White House interview.”
    • “I agreed to plead guilty that next day, December 1, 2017, because of the intense pressure from the Special Counsel’s Office, which included a threat to indict my son, Michael, and the lack of crucial information from my counsel.”
    • “My former lawyers from Covington also assured me on November 30, 2017, that if I accepted the plea, my son Michael would be left in peace.”
    • “Regretfully I followed my lawyers’ strong advice to confirm my plea even though it was all I could do to not cry out ‘no’ when this Court asked me if I was guilty.”
    • “In truth, I never lied.”

Not to mention, Flynn’s sworn declaration is internally inconsistent. [Update: a few more of the amicus briefs have been approved, including one from former prosecutors.]

It’s also worth noting that the Bill Barnett 302, which included about a page worth of paragraphs that were “pending unsealing by the court” that have yet to be unsealed. Some of those must pertain to things Flynn claimed in his declaration. (Flynn’s defense, but not Judge Sullivan, has an unredacted copy.)

Finally, yesterday, DOJ either posted or updated a job description that could be Brandon Van Grack’s job leading DOJ’s more focused FARA practice, which Van Grack got moved to after the Mueller investigation (though it could also be a more junior position reporting to Van Grack).

The attorney for this position will focus on administering and enforcing FARA, with at least 50% of the attorney’s time devoted to FARA matters. The attorney’s FARA responsibilities will include preparing for and leading civil litigation, managing criminal investigations, conducting inspections, and drafting advisory opinions.

When DOJ tried to blow up Flynn’s prosecution, Van Grack withdrew from the case but did not quit, though the frothy right claimed he had been ousted. Just in the last while, Bruce Ohr was finally ousted from the office for a trumped up complaint that he shared intelligence on Russian threats, as he had done for years. Van Grack hasn’t filed anything in PACER since DOJ moved to withdraw the prosecution. That said, DOJ has repeatedly said DOJ did not violate Brady.

I don’t really know what to make of all this. But I thought I’d note what I’m seeing in the bottom of my tea cup.

Rat-Fucker Rashomon: Jerome Corsi’s Prescience about the Content of John Podesta’s Emails

In the previous installment of this series, I showed that rather than describing the conclusions of the Mueller team’s investigation into whether, how, and why Roger Stone optimized the release of the John Podesta emails on October 7, 2016, the Mueller Report instead plopped a comedy routine showing how Jerome Corsi changed his story from minute to minute on the topic.

The choice is all the more interesting given that the affidavits used in the Stone investigation — to say nothing of witness testimony — makes it increasingly certain that Stone got advance notice, and probably advance copies, of the stolen emails that pertained to an attack regarding Podesta’s ties to a company with Russian ties, Joule Holdings, that the frothy right had been chasing for months before mid-August 2016.

Jerome Corsi’s Podesta email was actually about timing

The email that Jerome Corsi sent Roger Stone on August 2, 2016 has been widely misunderstood, including by the SSCI Report.

“Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps,” Corsi explained after informing Stone he hadn’t called him back, as Stone requested the day before, because he was in Italy. “One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct.” This language about timing is what Aaron Zelinsky focused on when introducing the email at Stone’s trial. It’s the language that Jonathan Kravis highlighted in his closing argument. In neither prosecutors’ description of the email do they mention John Podesta (though later in Zelinsky’s opening, he describes that, “Roger Stone promised … a massive amount of hacked emails belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta” would be dropped on October 7).

Nevertheless this email has been taken as the means by which Corsi informed Stone that the upcoming WikiLeaks dump involved files stolen from John Podesta.

It’s only much later in the email when Corsi says, “Time to let more than Podesta to be exposed as in bed w enemy.” The reference to Podesta would be incomprehensible to Stone if it were his first notice that WikiLeaks was going to drop emails stolen from Hillary’s campaign manager. Moreover, Corsi wouldn’t bury it in the sixth paragraph if it were new news, particularly not given that the right wing oppo researchers Steve Bannon paid, the Government Accountability Institute, had just days earlier released a report that focused on John Podesta. Indeed, it’s even possible that the email doesn’t reflect advance knowledge of the Podesta emails, but was instead a reference to that report.

There’s no reason to believe that the Podesta reference in this email was news to Stone.

Corsi put the new news — that the dumps were coming shortly after he was scheduled to return from Italy on August 12, and then again in October — in the second paragraph. And as some of the affidavits described obliquely — but which did not get mentioned in any of the other three Roger Stone stories — the timing of both those predictions was absolutely correct.

Based on my training, experience, and review of materials in this case, it appears that CORSI’s reference to a “friend in embassy [who] plans 2 more dumps” refers to Julian ASSANGE; the founder of Wikileaks, who resided in Ecuador’s London Embassy in2016. As discussed above, Guccifer released information hacked from the DCCC on August 12,2016 (the date CORSI identified as when he would “return home.”)

FBI Agent Amy Anderson mentions, but does not explain, that Corsi did not correctly predict who would release these files.

Two releases, one from Guccifer and the other from Wikileaks, occurred at the times predicted by CORSI.

In fact, as Raffi Khatchadourian was the first to explain publicly (but as would have been clear to investigators once they obtained the relevant Twitter content), Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks engaged in a series of very theatrical DM conversations with Emma Best over that weekend in August 2016 about whether Best would publish the DCCC emails; even after WikiLeaks convinced Best to hold off so it could have exclusivity, WikiLeaks never did publish any DCCC documents. At the time Corsi learned that “friend in embassy” would have two upcoming drops, WikiLeaks was still demanding exclusivity before it would deliver the first one.

In the August 2 email, then, Corsi provided new news to Stone about what the Russians were planning, but (if the theatrical DMs are to be believed, which they shouldn’t necessarily be) Assange had yet to buy into the plan. That makes Corsi’s description of “the game hackers are now about” all the more intriguing.

There’s no reason to believe, from this email, that Corsi was newly informing Stone that WikiLeaks would eventually dump the Podesta emails. There’s not even any reason to be sure that Corsi informed Stone of that fact and not vice versa. Indeed, the Mueller Report describes that Corsi told Ted Malloch later in August that, “Stone had made a connection to Assange and that the hacked emails of John Podesta would be released prior to Election Day,” not that he himself had. The email is indication (though in no way, by itself, proof, especially given the possibility it referenced the GAI report) that both believed by August 2 that WikiLeaks would drop the Podesta emails. It is not proof that Corsi told Stone of that fact.

Rick Gates and Paul Manafort testified that Stone knew Podesta emails were coming

We can get a lot closer to proof that Stone had advance knowledge of the Podesta drop, though.

First of all, it’s not just Malloch who testified to having conversations about Podesta’s emails in August. According to the SSCI Report, in part of Rick Gates’ October 25, 2018 interview that remains redacted,

Gates recalled Stone advising him, prior to the release of an August 14 article in The New York Times about Paul Manafort’s “secret ledger,” that damaging information was going to be released about Podesta. 1579 Gates understood that Stone was referring to nonpublic information. Gates further recalled later conversations with Stone about how to save Manafort’s role on the Campaign, and that Stone was focused on getting information about John Podesta, but said that Stone did not reveal the “inner workings” of that plan to Gates. 1580

An unredacted part of that 302 — which is likely the continuation of the discussion cited in SSCI — explains,

Gates said there was a strategy to defend Manafort by attacking Podesta. The idea was that Podesta had baggage as well. Gates said it was unfortunate the information did not come out in time to defend Manafort from his ultimate departure from the campaign.

In a September 27, 2018 interview, Manafort provided details of two conversations that he placed in August 2016, one of which provided specific details (which remain redacted, purportedly to protect Podesta’s privacy!) about John Podesta’s alleged ties with Russia.

Manafort was sure he had at least two conversations with Stone prior to the October 7, 2016 leak of John Podesta’s emails.

In the one conversation between Stone and Manafort, Stone told Manafort “you got fucked.” Stone’s comment related to the fact that Manafort had been fired. The conversation was either the day Manafort left the campaign or the day after.

In the other conversation, Stone told Manafort that there would be a WikiLeaks drop of emails with Podesta, and that Podesta would be “in the barrel” and Manafort would be vindicated. Manafort had a clear memory of the moment because of the language Stone used. Stone also said Manafort would be pleased with what came out. It was Manafort’s understanding that WikiLeaks had Podesta’s emails and they were going to show that [redacted] Manafort would be vindicated because he had to leave the campaign for being too pro-Russian, and this would show that Podesta also had links to Russia and would have to leave.

Manafort’s best recollection was the “barrel” conversation was before he got on the boat the week of August 28, 2016.

Roger Stone’s longtime friend Paul Manafort, at a time when he lying to protect key details about what happened in 2016, nevertheless confirmed that Stone had detailed knowledge not just that the Podesta files would drop, but what Russian-based attacks they would make of them.

The government almost certainly has proof Stone and Corsi had advance copies of the Podesta files

More importantly, there’s evidence that Corsi had copies of some of the Podesta emails by August 14, and had pre-written attacks on Podesta already drafted when the files came out in October.

On March 23, 2017, Corsi published what he claimed was an explanation for Stone’s August 21, 2016 “time in the barrel” tweet. In it, he explained that in response to the August 14, 2016 NYT story exposing Paul Manafort’s Ukraine corruption, Corsi started a memo for Stone on Podesta.

On Aug. 14, 2016, I began researching for Roger Stone a memo that I entitled “Podesta.”

On August 15 at 1:33 AM, Stone tweeted about Podesta for the first time ever,

@JohnPodesta makes @PaulManafort look like St. Thomas Aquinas Where is the @NewYorkTimes ?

At 8:16AM on August 15, Corsi texted and then at 8:17 AM Corsi emailed Stone the same message:

Give me a call today if you can. Despite MSM drumroll that HRC is already elected, it’s not over yet. More to come than anyone realizes.

According to the SSCI Report, at 12:14PM on August 15, Corsi and Stone spoke by phone for 24 minutes.

The implication in Corsi’s March 2017 post was that he spent the next two weeks writing the memo that he started on August 14 and that the report reflects “several detailed conversations” Corsi had with Stone.

I completed that memo on Aug. 31, 2016, and is embedded here in its entirety.

Between Aug. 14 and Aug. 31, 2016, Roger Stone and I had several detailed conversations about the Podesta research.

Except that prosecutors obtained several kinds of proof that Corsi only started writing the memo he published in that March 2017 column (which Stone submitted to HPSCI — starting at PDF 39 — as part of his prepared statement) on that same day, on August 31. Corsi started writing it after Stone called him on August 30 and asked him to do so. This would have started to become clear to prosecutors when they first obtained email returns, since Corsi sent a copy of the report to Stone via email. But according to Corsi, prosecutors found forensic evidence to confirm that.

In his book, Corsi even admitted that the document was a cover story that he didn’t start until August 30 (Stone sued Corsi about this claim).

Next, Zelinsky focused on the email Roger Stone sent me on August 30, 2016, asking me to call him. As we discussed earlier, that led me to write a “cover-up memo” for him on John Podesta, suggesting that Roger’s infamous Twitter post about “Podesta’s time in the barrel” was a reference to my research about John and Tony Podesta’s money dealings with Russia. Roger wanted to disguise his tweet, suggesting “Podesta’s time in the barrel” was not a reference to any advanced knowledge Stone may have had from me, when I began telling Stone from Italy in emails dated earlier in August 2016 that I believed Assange had Podesta emails. “We’ve examined your computer Doctor Corsi,” Zelinsky grilled me. “And we know that the next day, August 31, 2016, your birthday, you began at 7:30 a.m. to write that memo for Stone.”

Before returning to Washington to appear before the grand jury, I had taken the time to research the file of my 2016 writing drafts that I had restored to my laptop from the Time Machine. I found that the file that I labeled, “ROGER STONE background PODESTA version 1.0 Aug. 31, 2016” was time-stamped for 12:17 p.m. that day. But I decided not to quibble with Zelinsky, so I agreed. “Then, Doctor Corsi, we find from your computer that the first thing you did was to find a series of open source articles on Podesta and Russia that you could use in writing your memo for Roger Stone,” Zelinsky said, pressing forward. “Is that correct?”

That said, Corsi may well have another report he started on August 14. In his March 2017 piece, Corsi claims that he wrote a series of articles based on that original report, one installment of which Stone would publish under his own name on October 13.

On October 6, 2016, I published in WND.com the first of a series of articles detailing Putin’s financial ties to Clinton and Podesta, based largely on the research contained in the Government Accountability Institute’s report, “From Russia With Money.”

On Oct. 13, 2016, Stone published on his website an article entitled, “Russian Mafia money laundering, the Clinton Foundation and John Podesta.”

A comparison of the two articles will show the extent to which Stone incorporated my research into his analysis.

To the extent that Corsi wrote a series of articles, it would include the following:

In a November 1, 2018 interview, Corsi explained that he had published the October 6 one (as noted, it was based off the earlier GAI/Breitbart attack), in an effort to force Assange to release the Podesta emails.

Corsi published the August 31, 2016 memo on October 6, 2016. At that time, he still held himself out as the connection to WikiLeaks. The trigger for the release of the article was the publication of an article about [Paul] Manafort and [Viktor] Yanukovych. Corsi wanted to counter it with a story about Podesta, but he really wanted to provide stimulus to Assange to release whatever he had on Podesta. Corsi was angry with Assange for not releasing emails on October 4, 2016.

The claim would only make sense (to the extent that Jerome Corsi can ever be said to “make sense”) if Corsi could threaten to pre-empt what WikiLeaks was about to publish: the Podesta file pertaining to Joule Holdings.

As for the October 13 piece Stone adopted as his own, the affidavits targeting Corsi and Stone provided extensive details on how that got published.

First thing in the morning on October 12, Stone wrote Corsi and asked for his “best podesta links.” (The SSCI Report reveals that Stone and Manafort spoke that day, but does not say what time.) Corsi responded that he would send them on Monday — which would have been on October 17. “The remaining stuff on Podesta,” Corsi said, “is complicated.” That seems to comport with Corsi’s later representation he did a series, of which the October 13 one was part. But it also seems to suggest that the remaining stuff was already written at 8:54 AM on October 12.

75. On or about October 8, 2016, STONE messaged CORSI at Target Account 2, “Lunch postponed- have to go see T.” CORSI responded to STONE, “Ok. I understand.” Approximately twenty minutes later, CORSI texted, “Clintons know they will lose a week of Paula Jones media with T attacking Foundation, using Wikileaks Goldman Sachs speech comments, attacking bad job numbers.”

76. On or about Wednesday, October 12, 2016, at approximately 8:17 EDT, STONE emailed CORSI at Target Account 1, asking him to “send me your best podesta links.” STONE emailed CORSI at approximately 8:$$ [sic] EDT, “need your BEST podesta pieces.” CORSI wrote back at approximately 8:54AM EDT, “Ok. Monday. The remaining stuff on Podesta is complicated. Two articles in length. I can give you in raw form the stuff I got in Russian translated but to write it up so it’s easy to understand will take weekend. Your choice?”

77. On or about that same day October 12, 2016, Podesta accused STONE of having advance knowledge of the publication of his emails. At approximately 3:25PM EDT, CORSI, using Target Account 1, emailed STONE with a subject line “Podesta talking points.” Attached to the email was a file labeled, “ROGER STONE podesta talking points Oct 12 2016.docx.” The “talking points” included the statement that “Podesta is at the heart of a Russian-govermnent money laundering operation that benefits financially Podesta personally and the Clintons through the Clinton Foundation.”

78. CORSI followed up several minutes later with another email titled, “Podesta talking points,” with the text “sent a second time just to be sure you got it.” STONE emailed CORSI back via the Hotmail Account, “Got them and used them.”

79. On or about Thursday, October 13, 2016, CORSI, using Target Account 3, emailed STONE: “PODESTA — Joule & ties to RUSSIA MONEY LAUNDERING to CLINTON FOUNDATION.” STONE responded, “Nice but I was hoping for a piece I could post under my by-line since I am the one under attack by Podesta and now Mook.” CORSI wrote back to STONE, “I’ll give you one more -NOBODY YET HAS THIS[:] It looks to me like [redacted–Vekselberg] skimmed maybe billions off Skolkovo – Skolkovo kept their money with Metcombank[.] The Russians launched a criminal investigation[.] [web link] Once [redacted–Vekselberg] had the channel open from Metcombank to Deutsche Bank America to Ban[k] of America’s Clinton Fund account, there’s no telling how much money he laundered, or where it ended up. Nothing in Clinton Foundation audited financials or IRS Form 990s about $$$ received via Russia & Metcombank[.] I’m working on that angle now.” STONE replied, “Ok Give me SOMETHING to post on Podesta since I have now promised it to a dozen MSM reporters[.]”

80. On or about Thursday, October 13, 2016 at approximately 6:30PM EDT, CORSI sent STONE an email with the Subject, “ROGER STONE article RUSSIAN MAFIA STYLE MONEY-LAUNDERING, the CLINTON FOUNDATION, and JOHN PODESTA.” The text stated: “Roger[,] You are free to publish this under your own name.” That same day, STONE posted a blog post with the title, “Russian Mafia money laundering, the Clinton Foundation and John Podesta.” In that post, STONE wrote, “although I have had some back-channel communications with Wikileaks I had no advance notice about the hacking of Mr. Podesta nor I have I ever received documents or data from Wikileaks.” The post then asked, “Just how much money did, a controversial Russian billionaire investor with ties to the Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, launder through Metcombank, a Russian regional bank owned 99 .978 percent by with the money transferred via Deutsche Bank and Trust Company Americas in New York City, with the money ending up in a private bank account in the Bank of America that is operated by the Clinton Foundation?”

81. On or about October 14, 2016, CORSI sent a message using Target Account 2 to STONE, “i’m in NYC. Thinking about writing piece attacking Leer and other women. It’s basically a rewrite of what’s out there. Going through new Wikileaks drop on Podesta.” [my emphasis]

It turns out the post Stone ultimately posted had no links to the WikiLeaks releases it relied on (remember, he asked Corsi for links and pieces), but it does reference a file that had been released on October 11, hours before Corsi seemed to speak of the post as already completed.

Wikileaks emails tie John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, into the money-laundering network with the confirmation Podesta had exercised 75,000 shares out of 100,000 previously undisclosed stock options he was secretly issued by Joule Unlimited, a U.S. corporation that ties back to Vekselberg connected Joule Global Stichting in the Netherlands – a shady entity identified in the Panama Papers as an offshore money-laundering client of the notorious Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

As a clear indication of guilty conscience, the Wikileaks Podesta file further documents that Podesta made a serious effort to keep the transaction from coming to light as evidenced by his decision to transfer 75,000 common shares of Joule Unlimited to Leonidio LLC, another shady shell corporation – this one listed in Salt Lake City at the home apartment of the gentlemen who registered the company.

A parallel post covering the same material posted by Corsi does have links to the emails that support the disposition of the 75,000 shares and other claims made in it. But that one was updated about six hours after it was first posted, and the first Internet Archive capture postdates that update.

Investigators seem to have found some significance, too, in the Metcombank reference that Corsi got and had to translate from Russian, a significance I don’t understand. But Stone dropped part of that attack when he revived the Vekselberg attack to use against Cohen in 2018.

Remember: Investigators would have had the forensics for the documents Corsi and Stone were sending back and forth by email, and probably would have communications about all this between August 14 and August 31, when (according to Corsi), Stone asked him to write a cover story. They would know if the story Stone posted under his own name was drafted before the public release of the emails it relied on.

But even on its face, Corsi’s comments suggest that these documents were a series started by October 6, of which some parts “were remaining” on the morning of October 12, one day after the email it relied on got released. Remember, too, that Corsi claims Stone told him to delete his email (which he did) on October 11, which would hide any knowledge of that WikiLeaks file before it came out.

Paul Manafort and Rick Gates both testified that Roger Stone had a plan, hatched before Paul Manafort resigned on August 19, to save his job by claiming that Podesta was just as bad as Manafort. Manafort even described the specific nature of the Russian-based attack on Podesta they had planned (though Bill Barr’s DOJ redacted it to protect Podesta’s privacy!).

And then, when Roger Stone asked Corsi for “links” as well as “pieces” on October 12, Corsi sent him a document that, by reference, had already been written, one that didn’t have links but that integrated information that wasn’t public until October 11.

That doesn’t prove that Stone and Corsi had those files in mid-August. But it does explain why Stone might have wanted a cover story denying they did after he boasted that it would soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel on August 21.


The movie Rashomon demonstrated that any given narrative tells just one version of events, but that by listening to all available narratives, you might identify gaps and biases that get you closer to the truth.

I’m hoping that principle works even for squalid stories like the investigation into Roger Stone’s cheating in the 2016 election. This series will examine the differences between four stories about Roger Stone’s actions in 2016:

As I noted in the introductory post (which lays out how I generally understand the story each tells), each story has real gaps in one or more of these areas:

My hope is that by identifying these gaps and unpacking what they might say about the choices made in crafting each of these stories, we can get a better understanding of what actually happened — both in 2016 and in the investigations. The gaps will serve as a framework for this series.